Soo Thunderbirds – Elliot Lake Wildcats NOJHL West Division final preview



Release Date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Soo Thunderbirds – Elliot Lake Wildcats NOJHL West Division final preview

SUDBURY – The Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie will be the site of Game 1 of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s West Division final Thursday at 7:30 p.m. as the Soo Thunderbirds host the Elliot Lake Wildcats in the opener of this best-of-seven series. Game 2 goes Saturday at Centennial Arena in Elliot Lake, also at 7:30 p.m.

The following is a preview of the West Division final:

THE MATCH-UP: As the number one seed in the playoffs, the Thunderbirds earned home ice advantage in the match-up after capturing their second straight NOJHL regular season title in league play.

Sault Ste. Marie finished with a league-best 83 points with a 38-7-1-6 record.

The first-year Wildcats were equally impressive as they matched the Thunderbirds in overall victories while going 38-11-2-1 finishing just four points out of a share of top spot.

HOW THEY ADVANCED: The T-Birds booked their place in the division final in convincing fashion as they rolled to a four-game sweep of the Blind River Beavers, winning handily, while outscoring the Beavers 41-1 along the way.

Elliot Lake meanwhile fell behind early to the Sudbury Nickel Barons in their divisional semifinal, dropping the first two games, before storming back to take the next four, which included three shutouts by goaltender A.J. Smith, and take the series 4-2.

POINT PRODUCERS: Both teams got plenty of offensive support in their respective first round postseason contests.

Leading the Soo against Blind River were forwards Jaren Bellini and Matt Caruso, who piled up 13 points apiece vs. the Beavers.

Caruso scored 11 times in four outings and currently tops all skaters in the league in playoff goals.

Bellini notched six markers and set-up seven others.

They also share the NOJHL scoring lead in the playoffs as well.

Joining them with 13 points is Elliot Lake forward Cole Hepler.

Hepler had six tallies and seven helpers in the series win over Sudbury to lead the way for the Wildcats.

Connor Scott was a close second, picking up a dozen points vs. the Nickel Barons, all of which came in the final four games of the series.

Nicolas Sicoly was also a double-digit point man for the Soo in the triumph over Blind River as he picked up 10 as he scored three times and dished out seven helpers.

Thunderbirds defenceman Owen Headrick’s six tallies leads all league D-men in playoff markers.

The offensive production was spread out by the Thunderbirds in their series against Blind River as 14 players registered five or more points in the series.

As for the Wildcats, four skaters had five or more points in their triumph over Sudbury.

GOALTENDERS: In their opening round victory over Blind River, the Soo netminding tandem of Brian Kment and Mario Culina were all but unbeatable.

Kment posted back-to-back shutouts while Culina had one of his own and only allowed one against in his other start.

Meanwhile A.J. Smith was sensational between the pipes for Elliot Lake.

He won his last four starts vs. the Nickel Barons, including picking up three shutouts to help backstop his side to the next round.

The trio sit one-two-three in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts in the NOJHL playoffs to date.

STREAKS: The Wildcats’ Hepler has points in six straight playoff games entering Game 1 and also has goals in four consecutive contests.

Dating back to the final game of the regular season, the T-Birds Matt Caruso has scored multiple times in five straight games.

He also has points in each of the past six games he has played in.

The Soo’s Sicoly also has at least one point in six straight outings.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: In regular season play, Sault Ste. Marie and Elliot Lake met a total of 10 times with each team winning five contests. Three of those decisions came in overtime.

The Soo duo of Eric Hillock and Nicholas Tassone were the top point producers for the T-Birds vs. the Wildcats picking up nine points apiece.

Matt Caruso was close behind with eight with Boris Katchouk, Brett Jeffries and Anthony Miller picking up seven each.

Adam Baxter paced Elliot Lake offensively in the head-to-head meetings scoring five times and adding nine assists for 14 points.

Cole Hepler was next with 13 points, including five tallies, while Spencer MacLean had nine points on four markers and five helpers.

Wildcats defenceman Nathan Campbell picked up eight points against the Thunderbirds during regular season play.

Mario Culina went 4-1-2 in net for the T-Birds vs. the Wildcats to lead his team while A.J. Smith had a 4-3-1 mark against the Soo this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Thunderbirds went 7-40 on the power play in those head-to-head meetings while the Wildcats went 9-43.

Neither side scored while shorthanded.

WHAT’S NEXT: The side that comes out on top in this series will meet the winner of the East Division final between the Cochrane Crunch and Powassan Voodoos for the NOJHL championship.

That best-of-seven set gets underway Friday at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane at 7:30 p.m.

The NOJHL title holder will then advance to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Jr. A Championship, April 28 through May 2, in Fort Frances, Ont.

NOJHL West Division final
No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 2 Elliot Lake Wildcats
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Thursday, March 26 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 2: Saturday, March 28 @ Elliot Lake 7:30 p.m. (Centennial Arena)
Game 3: Monday, March 30 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 4: Wednesday, April 1 @ Elliot Lake 7:30 p.m. (Centennial Arena)
Game 5*: Saturday, April 4 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 6*: Monday, April 6 @ Elliot Lake 7:30 p.m. (Centennial Arena)
Game 7*: Wednesday, April 8 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
*-if necessary

FASTHOCKEY: Each game of every series can be viewed online on a pay-per-view basis at

LIVE SCORING: You can also following live scoring through the league website at

STATS PACK: Series stats pack, compiled by NOJHL Statistician/Historian David Harrison, attached in PDF.

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