By Matt Stefano
For an entire year, the Essar Centre has been nothing but wins every game on home ice for the Soo Thunderbirds and after finishing first in the NOJHL and going perfect at home during the regular season, the T-Birds opened up game one of the West Division semifinals on Saturday night against the Soo Eagles.
The T-Birds came out flying in the first period with three goals in the opening 4:05.
Matt Pinder gave the T-Birds a 1-0 lead just 2:31 in from Aiden Salerno and Brandon Grandinetti. 1:13 later, it would be T-Birds forward Matt Caruso getting his first of the playoffs from Jake Behse and Mike Caruso to put the Soo up by two. Adam McPhail’s goal at 4:05 from Drake Pilon and Brandon Grandinetti gave the Soo an early 3-0 cushion. Reed Gregory’s second of the playoffs at 12:44 from Gord Helmuth and Cam Bruggrabe cut the T-Birds lead to 3-1. Then, at the 14:13 mark of the first, it would would be overage forward Joey Miller getting his first of the playoffs from Brandon Grandinetti and Brett Jeffries to put the Soo up 4-1 after one.
Just 45 seconds into the second, it was overage defenceman Mike Caruso’s power play goal from Drake Pilon and Darian Pilon that gave the T-Birds a 5-1 lead. The T-Birds then would take a 6-1 lead at 10:06 courtesy of Matt Pinder’s second of the game from Brett Jeffries and Mark Tassone, which also spelt the end of the night for Eagles goalie Cam Bruggrabe as he was replaced by Jack Hickey after giving up six goals on thirty one shots. The T-Birds would just keep on coming as Matt Caruso would then get his second of the game at 12:18 from Nathan Hebert and Jaren Bellini to give the home team a 7-1 lead through two.
T-Birds forward Matt Caruso would complete the hat trick just 1:08 into the third from Jaren Bellini and Nathan Hebert to make it an 8-1 game. The Eagles would then respond with a couple goals of their own. Reed Gregory’s second of the night and third of the playoffs from Gord Helmuth and Roman Gaudet cut the T-Birds lead to 8-2. Roman Gaudet’s short handed goal and sixth of the playoffs at 8:12 from Reed Gregory and Gord Helmuth would then cut the T-Birds lead to five. Joey Miller’s shorthanded goal and second of the night at 17:16 from Matt Mitchell and Aiden Salerno was the final goal of the game as the T-Birds hammered the Soo Eagles 9-3 in game one of the NOJHL West Division semifinals at the Essar Centre.
“I thought we got the ball rolling really early there,” said T-Birds forward Matt Caruso. “The boys were all hyped up prior to the game and we knew it was game one.”
Caruso, who scored three goals on Saturday night in game one, also marked the fourth career playoff hat trick for the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native.
“Yeah it felt pretty good and I thought it was a team effort,” continued the T-Birds second year forward. “I have some good linemates like Nathan Hebert and Jaren Bellini, so it’s good having them on my line.”
The T-Birds will now be back in action on Monday, March 21st for game two of the semifinal series against the Soo Eagles at 7:30 p.m. from the Essar Centre.
“We’re just going to have a light skate tomorrow,” concluded Caruso. “Maybe get some good food in us and we’ll be ready for Monday.”
T-Birds goaltender Connor Ryckman gave made sixteen saves for the win.
Eagles goaltender Cam Bruggrabe, who started in Saturday’s game, gave up six goals on thirty one shots before being replaced by Jack Hickey, who then surrendered three goals on seventeen shots the rest of the way.
(Photo credit to James Egan’s Sports Photography)