By Matt Stefano
The Soo Thunderbirds are not going anywhere!
Except back to Hearst for game 6 of the NOJHL final, and a chance to even up the series at three.
On Sunday night, the Soo Thunderbirds defeated the Hearst Lumberjacks by a score of 3-2 in game 5 of the NOJHL final in front of 426 fans at the John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.
With the win, the Thunderbirds now only trail the Lumberjacks three-games-to-two in the best-of-seven series.
“I thought we got off to a really good start tonight,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett, whose team led 3-0 after two periods of play, before giving up two goals in the final frame. “I thought our guys responded well through the first two periods. In the third period we got comfortable and we were lucky to be able to hang on and win this game. The third period was a lesson for us and we’re not going to have many opportunities like that. If we’re in the same position on Tuesday night in game 6, we need to make sure that we’re on the ball and locked in for a full 60 (minutes).”
With the game just over two minutes old, the Thunderbirds would get on the board first on the power play at 2:10 as captain Brock Santa Maria would notch his 3rd goal of the playoffs from Michael Chaffay and Kelsey Ouellet, which put the Thunderbirds up 1-0 after twenty minutes of play.
The Thunderbirds power play then continued to click in the second period as rookie forward Youssef Chaouachi would notch his 4th goal of the playoffs on the man advantage at 13:09 from Colby Arbour and Mason Chitaroni, which put the Thunderbirds up by a score of 2-0.
The Thunderbirds, who scored their first two goals on the power play, finished the night going 2-for-8 on the man advantage.
“I thought our PP was good through the first two periods,” Jarrett said. “We had opportunities to put the game away, but in the third period we got a little comfortable and we didn’t keep our foot on the gas. We just need to find that recipe we’ve had through the first two periods and make sure we bring it for 60 minutes next game.”
With the Thunderbirds leading 2-0 late in the second period, it would then be Thunderbirds rookie defenceman and Soo Greyhounds prospect Andrew Gibson getting his 3rd goal of the playoffs from Michael Chaffay at 17:38, which put the Thunderbirds up 3-0 after forty minutes of play.
Liam Oxner, who started in net for the Lumberjacks on Sunday night, was then replaced in net by Lumberjacks goaltender Matteo Gennaro at the start of the third period.
Oxner gave up 3 goals on 30 shots through two periods of play.
“In the first two periods of play, Liam Oxner was the only player on our team who showed up,” said Hearst Lumberjacks head coach Marc-Alain Begin, whose team has now lost lost two straight games for the first time in this postseason. “I felt bad for Liam and we had to pull him to show the guys that he deserves better. The score says 3-2, but we’re really not happy with the way we played. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and be better for game 6 on Tuesday night in Hearst.”
After trailing the Thunderbirds 3-0 after forty minutes of play and being outshot 30-18 overall, the Lumberjacks then ended up getting a pair of goals from forward Zachary Demers in the third period in a span of 5:56.
Demers, who entered Sunday night’s game with 6 goals on the postseason, notched his 7th goal of the playoffs at the 13:44 mark of the third period, which cut the Thunderbirds lead to 3-1.
The native of St. Hubert, Quebec would then get his second goal of the game and 8th goal of the playoffs at 18:40 from Robbie Rutledge and Raphael Lajeunesse, which then cut the Thunderbirds lead to one.
“Demers has a knack around the net for goals,” Begin said. “We’re happy to see him score two here tonight and maybe that will give confidence to him and his line going into game 6 on Tuesday.”
Lumberjacks goaltender Matteo Gennaro, who replaced Liam Oxner in net at the start of the third period, ended up making 13 saves in the final twenty minutes of play.
Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Metiver, who got his fourth straight start in net on Sunday night, made 25 saves for his 6th victory of the postseason.
The Thunderbirds, who are still looking to keep their Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy hopes alive, will now be in Hearst on Tuesday night for game 6 of the NOJHL final, which will take place at Claude Larose Arena, beginning at 7:00 p.m.
A win by the Thunderbirds on Tuesday night in Hearst would force a seventh and deciding game back in the Soo on Thursday night at the John Rhodes.
“Nobody is giving us a chance to claw back into this series,” Jarrett said. “We just need to make sure that we’re the more desperate team and we need to take advantage of this opportunity we have going back to Hearst.”