By Matt Stefano
It will be an International Bridge battle in the NOJHL’s West Division semifinal for the second straight year, as the Soo Thunderbirds will open up postseason action against the Soo Eagles on Thursday night at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
The T-Birds, who got their ticket punched into the NOJHL’s West Division semifinal after finishing first in the West Division, will face the Eagles, who eliminated the Elliot Lake Wildcats two games to one in the NOJHL’s West Division quarterfinal series.
During the regular season, the T-Birds finished with a 6-3-1 record against the Eagles while outscoring them 44-31.
WHERE DO THEY STAND?
The T-Birds finished first in the West Division with a record of 43-11-1-1.
Their 232 goals scored was the highest in the NOJHL’s West Division while their 134 goals against was the least.
The Eagles finished fourth in the West Division with a record of 27-26-2-1.
Their 222 goals scored was second best in the West Division, right behind the T-Birds best (232).
For the second straight season, the T-Birds were led in scoring by Matt Caruso, who had a career best 70 point season through 54 games played.
The Eagles were led in scoring this season by Livonia, Michigan native Chris Murphy, who had 64 points through 51 games.
ON THE BLUELINE
After losing four defencemen to graduation from one season ago, including Caleb Boman, Khadyn Butterfly, Mike Caruso and Aidan Salerno, plus a couple of trades this season that saw Brandon Grandinetti and Matt Busby go elsewhere, Jake Behse has been the only remaining defenceman from last year’s Dudley Hewitt Cup finals team.
Not only has Behse been the T-Birds top scoring defenceman this season, but he was also named to the CCM second all star team with captain Matt Caruso.
Behse, who had a career season-best in goals (6), assists (21), points (27) and penalty minutes (41), also suited up for Team NOJHL at the 2016 Eastern Canada Junior A All-Star Challenge this past November in Cornwall, Ontario.
Nick Trecroce, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, has been the Soo Eagles top scoring defenceman during the regular season with 26 points (all assists) through 49 games along with a team leading 81 penalty minutes.
He may have not scored a goal during the regular season, but so far in the playoffs, Trecroce leads all NOJHL defencemen in goals (2).
T-Birds second year goaltender Brandon Gordon, who will face his hometown team, the Soo Eagles, finished first in league shutouts during the regular season with 5.
Dougie Newhouse, who is in his first season with the T-Birds, finished tied for second in league shutouts during the regular season with 3.
Newhouse was also named the NOJHL’s Gongshow Gear rookie and goalie of the month for February.
Eagles goaltender Kade Phipps had only one shutout this season.
FIRST TWO GAMES AT HOME
Game 1 of the West Division semifinal will take place on Thursday, March 16th at 7:00 p.m. at the John Rhodes.
Game 2 will take place on Saturday, March 18th at 7:00 p.m. at the John Rhodes.
(Photo credit to James Egan’s Sports Photography)