West Division final series preview: Soo Thunderbirds vs. Elliot Lake Wildcats



Release Date: Friday, April 1, 2016

West Division final series preview: Soo Thunderbirds vs. Elliot Lake Wildcats

SUDBURY, Ont. – The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division final between the Soo Thunderbirds and the Elliot Lake Wildcats will commence Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The following is a preview of this best-of-seven affair:


NOJHL West Division final
No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 2 Elliot Lake Wildcats
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Saturday, April 2 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 2: Monday, April 4 @ Elliot Lake 7 p.m. (Centennial Arena)
Game 3: Wednesday, April 6 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (Essar)
Game 4: Friday, April 8 @ Elliot Lake 7:30 p.m. (Centennial)
Game 5*: Saturday, April 9 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (Essar)
Game 6*: Monday, April 11 @ Elliot Lake 7 p.m. (Centennial)
Game 7*: T.B.A. @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (Essar)
*- if necessary

HOW THEY ADVANCED: The Thunderbirds advanced to the division final after disposing of the rival Soo Eagles in a four-game sweep, which included goaltender Connor Ryckman posting shutouts in each of the last three match-ups in the series.

Elliot Lake meanwhile got here after taking a best-of-seven set vs. the Rayside-Balfour Canadians in five outings.

The T-Birds hold the No. 1 seed in both the division as well as overall in the league after finishing the regular season with a league-best record of 47-6-1-0.

Nationally the Thunderbirds finished being rated third overall in the 131-team Canadian Junior Hockey League in the final Pointstreak Top 20 rankings for the campaign.

The defending NOJHL and Dudley-Hewitt Cup champion T-Birds continue to be dominant on home ice this season as they won each of the 27 contests in which they were the home team while adding two more triumphs at Essar Centre in the series win over the Eagles.

Elliot Lake finished second in the NOJHL West with a 35-12-5-2 record winning 18 at home and 17 more on the road.

THUNDERBIRDS VS. WILDCATS: From the files of league statistician and historian David Harrison, you’ll find that out of the eight regular season meetings the two clubs had, it was the Soo who came out on top going an impressive 7-1 overall.

Thunderbirds veteran forward Brett Jeffries supplied two game-winning goals in the season set vs. the Wildcats and helped set-up another.

Pacing the Soo in scoring against Elliot Lake were Matt Caruso and Jeffries, who amassed nine points each along the way.

Caruso scored five times while both of Jeffries’ efforts were winning goals.

Jaren Bellini and Matt Pinder were next with seven points each. Bellini also led the squad with six markers vs. the Wildcats.

Elliot Lake’s top point man against the Thunderbirds was Liam Blais, who collected seven, including four tallies.

Chad Lopez was next with five points while D-man Nathan Campbell and forwards Spencer MacLean and Cole Hepler had four each.

Among current goaltenders on the Soo roster, Connor Ryckman went 3-0 vs. Elliot Lake, including picking up two shutouts.

Aaron Mackay recorded the lone win over the T-Birds in the Wildcats net back on March 12.

PLAYOFFS: Connor Ryckman has been the sensation between the pipes for the Soo.

With three straight shutouts to his credit, he has not allowed a goal against in his last 191 minutes and 48 seconds of work.

He’s tied for the league lead in playoff wins with four and tops all NOJHL netminders in both average and save percentage at 0.75 and .961 respectively.

Mackay meanwhile is 4-1 with a 3.20 GAA and .908 save mark for Elliot Lake.

Brandon Grandinetti leads the Thunderbirds in playoff scoring with five points.

Using a well-balanced attack, six other Soo skaters are next with four points apiece while another five have three points with every player that has dressed so far having picked up at least one point.

The Wildcats Cole Hepler shares top spot among NOJHLers in offensive production with 11 points.

His seven goals also knot him for the overall league lead.

Spencer MacLean is next on the club with eight points with blueliner Campbell and forward Alec MacKenzie recording six points each.

ON TAP: The winner of this series will meet either the Cochrane Crunch or the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in the NOJHL’s Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy league championship series.

WHERE TO WATCH: If you can’t make it out in person to watch any of this series, you can check out each and every NOJHL playoff game online at FASTHockey.com.