T-Birds crowned NOJHL champions

By Matt Stefano

After defeating the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 5-1 in game three of the NOJHL finals on Thursday night and taking a 3-0 lead in the series, the Soo Thunderbirds were just one win away from winning their second straight NOJHL title on Friday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.

For the second straight night, the teams headed into their dressing rooms scoreless after the first period, but from the middle frame on, it was all T-Birds!

At the 3:26 mark of the second period, overage forward Matt Pinder’s sixth goal of the postseason gave the T-Birds a 1-0 lead.

These two shared the Joey Mauncuso Award as the T-Birds rookie of the year this season, and they both got on the scoreboard over four minutes later.

At the 8:06 mark of the second, rookie forward Darian Pilon gave the T-Birds a 2-0 lead with his twin brother Drake Pilon picking up the lone assist.

Heading into Friday night’s game with only five assists in the NOJHL playoffs, T-Birds overage defenceman Aiden Salerno notched his first NOJHL playoff goal at 13:06 from Jaren Bellini to put the Soo up by three.

Then, with just eighteen seconds to go in the middle frame, it would then be T-Birds overage defenceman Mike Caruso getting his fifth of the postseason on the power play from Matt Busby and Darian Pilon to give the Soo a 4-0 lead heading into the third period.

After a four goal second period, the Soo did not stop there and get too comfortable with their lead.

Matt Pinder’s power play goal and second of the night at 5:22 into the third from Nathan Hebert and Matt Caruso gave the Soo a 5-0 lead.

Long Beach, New York native Aiden Salerno got his first career two goal game at 11:13 to put the Soo up by six.

Then, with just over two and a half minutes to go in the third period, T-Birds forward Adam McPhail would get his fourth of the playoffs on the power play from Ryan Mulligan and Caleb Boman, as the Soo went on to a 7-0 win in game four of the NOJHL finals in Kirkland Lake and have clinched the Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy for the second straight year and fourth time in franchise history.

The T-Birds, who swept the Gold Miners in four straight, became the first team to sweep an NOJHL final series since the Sudbury Junior Wolves took out the Abitibi Eskimos in four straight during the 2008 NOJHL finals.

Gold Miners goaltender Joe Marcoullier, who gave up four goals on eighteen shots was replaced by Tyler Mazzocato, who then surrendered three goals on fourteen shots the rest of the way.

T-Birds goaltender Connor Ryckman made twenty five saves for his sixth shutout of the postseaeson.

Ryckman’s sixth shutout of the playoffs also set the new T-Birds record for most career postseason shutouts as he passed Brian Kment (2014-2015), who held the previous record with five.

The 2016 NOJHL champions will now get set to compete in the Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament from May 3rd-7th in Kirkland Lake.

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