By Matt Stefano
After eliminating the Blind River Beavers four-games-to-none in the NOJHL West Division semifinal series last week, the Soo Thunderbirds are now getting set to take on their cross-border rivals, the Soo Eagles tomorrow night in game 1 of the NOJHL West Division final, which will take place at 7:00 p.m. at the John Rhodes.
The Thunderbirds, who are coming off a four-game sweep against the Beavers, will take on an Eagles team who are coming off a four-games-to-two West Division semifinal series win against the Greater Sudbury Cubs.
“I’m excited for this series against the Eagles,” said Thunderbirds forward Michael Chaffay, who is currently leading the Thunderbirds in scoring this postseason with 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists) in 4 games. “It’s going to be tough and a real challenge.”
During the regular season series against the Eagles, the Thunderbirds have defeated them 6 times and have lost to them 4 times, including twice in a shootout and once in overtime.
“I expect our team to be ready to play our game,” Chaffay said. “If we do that, we won’t have a problem. We also did really well against the Eagles during the regular season.”
The Thunderbirds, who defeated the Eagles 6 times during the regular season, also picked up a pair of shutout victories against them, including a 3-0 victory back on December 4, and another 3-0 victory back on March 26.
Thunderbirds rookie goaltender Noah Metivier was also in net for both of those shutout victories, stopping 28 shots the first game (December 4) and 38 shots the second game (March 26).
Both of those shutout victories also came on Pullar Stadium ice in Soo Michigan.
“Playing against Soo Michigan in the West Division final will be no different than playing them in the regular season,” Metivier said. “I know we will come out and play our best against that group and that will give us the best chance at moving on to the next round (NOJHL final).”
Metivier, who has already seen action in two playoff games this year, is entering tomorrow night’s game with a record of 2 wins and 0 losses, and currently has the best goals against average (0.50) and the best save percentage (.969%) among all NOJHL goaltenders this postseason.
“My playoff experience has been no different than the regular season,” Metivier said. “I’ve been preparing for the games the same way I’ve been all season and I don’t plan on changing that. I came to this team to prove myself and that’s exactly what I’m going to do these next few games.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow night’s series opener against the Eagles, Thunderbirds forward Cole Delarosbil also talked about his previous playoff experience he had against the Eagles during his rookie season (2019-2020) with the Espanola Express.
The last time Delarosbil saw playoff action against the Soo Eagles, was back on March 6, 2020, when he and the Espanola Express were eliminated two-games-to-none against Eagles in the NOJHL West Division qualifier series.
“I remember the Pullar Stadium in Soo Michigan was a hard rink to play in during the playoffs,” Delarosbil said looking back to his rookie season with the Espanola Express in 2019-2020. “The fans always pack the barn and are very loud over there. The Pullar Stadium is a tough rink to play in if you get distracted.”
Delarosbil, who is now in his final season of junior hockey this year, has put up 17 goals and 30 points in 78 career NOJHL games.
During his NOJHL career, Delarosbil has also recorded at least one point against 5 out of the 6 teams in the NOJHL’s West Division (Including the Thunderbirds), but the Soo Eagles is the only team in the West Division that he has yet to register a point against.
“I hope to keep the guys focused on our game plan,” Delarosbil said. “I hope to be a leader on the ice and play aggressive and smart.”
The Thunderbirds, who finished in first place in the NOJHL West Division standings with 81 points, will take on an Eagles team that finished in second place in the West with 70 points.
In a home game against the Soo Eagles back on February 16, the Thunderbirds scored a total of eight goals as they defeated the Eagles by a score of 8-1 at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
Their eight goals that game also turned out to be their season-high for most goals scored during a regular season game.
THAT’S MORTSON LIKE IT!
After finishing fourth in team scoring with the Soo Eagles during the 2021-2022 regular season with 41 points, Eagles captain Jack Mortson is now currently leading the Eagles in scoring this postseason with 7 points, including 3 goals and 4 assists in 6 games postseason games.
Mortson, who is currently leading the Eagles in scoring this postseason, also scored the game-winning goal and set up another in the Eagles 3-2 win over the Greater Sudbury Cubs in game 6 of the NOJHL West Division semifinal series back on April 15 in Sudbury.
HANDY COMING IN HANDY
So far during this postseason, defenceman Colin Handy has turned out to be a big help towards helping the Soo Eagles get victories.
Handy, who was called up by the Soo Eagles from the Soo Indians Under-18 AAA club during the month of March, is currently leading all NOJHL defencemen in scoring this postseason with 6 points, including 3 goals and 3 assists.
The native of Lenox, Michigan also suited up for 9 games as an affiliate player with the Soo Eagles during the 2021-2022 regular season, where he scored 1 goal and set up 4 others.
GOTTA BE K.D. (KADEN DUNDAS)
After finishing second among all Thunderbird blueliners in scoring during the regular season with 23 points, Soo Thunderbirds second-year blueliner is now currently leading all Thunderbird defencemen in scoring this postseason with 5 points, including 1 goal and 4 assists.
Dundas, who is entering tomorrow night’s game as the top scoring defenceman on the Thunderbirds, also recorded two assists in the Thunderbirds 4-1 victory over the Blind River Beavers in game 4 of the NOJHL West Division semifinal series back on April 11 in Blind River.
(Photo of Thunderbirds defenceman Kyle Trottier credit to Bob Davies)