By Matt Stefano
After sweeping the West Division semifinal series in four straight against the Soo Eagles back on Friday, March 25th, the Soo Thunderbirds opened up game one of the NOJHL’s West Division finals at the Essar Centre on Saturday night against the Elliot Lake Wildcats.
The T-Birds grabbed this game in a thriller as they edged the Elliot Lake Wildcats 3-2 in overtime.
“It felt amazing after I had that twelve minute break in the penalty box,” said Matt Caruso, who scored the overtime winning goal just 6:03 into the extra frame. “After that, my legs were good to go and it felt good to get that for the team.”
Mike Caruso and Jaren Bellini had a goal and an assist each for the T-Birds while Matt Pinder, Matt Busby, Brett Jeffries and Drake Pilon all had single assists.
“I thought we came out to a good start,” said Caruso about Saturday night’s game. “There was a little confusion in the second period, I thought we weren’t sticking to our game plan, but we came out in the third.”
Caruso, who was assessed a two minute minor for tripping plus a ten minute misconduct at 10:17 into the third, came back to earn first star of the game after his overtime goal.
“I knew while I was out when we tied the game in the third, we would come back and do it in overtime,” continued Caruso.
Connor Rider and Nathan Campbell had the goals for Elliot Lake while single assists went to Chad Lopez, Cole Hepler and Spencer MacLean.
T-Birds goalie Connor Ryckman, who entered Saturday night’s contest with three consecutive shutouts, made twelve saves for the victory.
Wildcats goalie Aaron Mackay earned third star of the night, giving up three goals on fifty one shots.
“I think it was their goaltending,” continued Caruso. “We needed to get in front of him (Aaron Mackay), he’s a good goaltender and I thought once we got in front of him we created more traffic and Mike (Caruso) put one in for that second goal to tie it up at 15:33 into the third.”
The T-Birds will now travel to Elliot Lake on Monday for game two of the West Division finals.
“Mentally and physically getting prepared,” concluded Caruso. “Just get some good food in you and go to Elliot Lake for game two.”
(Photo credit to Jim Egan)