Thunderbirds one away from the West Division Final

By Matt Stefano

The Soo Thunderbirds are now just one win away from advancing to the West Division Final for the second straight year!

After dropping back to back games in Blind River, both by identical 3-2 scores, the Soo Thunderbirds returned home for game 5 of the West Division Semifinal on Sunday night, with the series tied 2-2.

The Thunderbirds took a 3-2 series lead on Sunday night as they defeated the Blind River Beavers by a score of 3-1 at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

“Honestly, I thought we just played with a little more intensity and a little more confidence,” said Thunderbirds captain Kaidan McDonald. “We just started making plays and playing how we know we can play. We just got back to doing what we’re good at and it worked out for us.”

After falling behind 1-0 just twenty one seconds into the opening period, thanks to Ryan Peck’s league-leading seventh goal of the playoffs, the Thunderbirds would then get a shorthanded goal for the second straight game, thanks to captain Kaidan McDonald’s first goal of the playoffs with just 1:01 to go in the first.

McDonald’s shorthanded tally came while the Thunderbirds were killing off a 5-minute slew footing major to defenceman Kobe Seguin.

“The Blind River player was coming up my side and ended up falling, so I got the puck and went down, fought off a few guys and just shot the puck at the net,” continued McDonald. “I didn’t even see where it went, but it was nice to get that shorthanded goal.”

The Thunderbirds took a 2-1 lead after the second period, thanks to Lucas Theriault’s power play tally at the 11:55 mark of the second from Noah Boman and Matthew Bazarin.

Defenceman Ryan Lawrence had an empty net goal at the 19:24 mark of the third period, which proved to be his first career playoff goal.

Nick Smith and Spencer Van Tiem had the assists on Lawrence’s tally.

“I thought Theriault and Lawrence both played awesome,” continued McDonald. Both their goals were definitely huge goals and it gave us that extra push, especially after Theriault’s. Then Lawrence’s goal near the end settled the game for us.”

The Thunderbirds, who had thirty six shots on net in game 5 on Sunday night, also outshot the Beavers 13-0 in the third period.

Beavers goaltender Jackson Hjelle entered Sunday night’s game with a perfect 2-0 record in the playoffs, but the Thunderbirds finally picked up a first win against him for the first time in this series.

Hjelle picked up both victories in net against the Thunderbirds in games 3 & 4 in Blind River, after replacing Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native Garrett Boyonoski, who started in net for the Beavers in games 1 & 2 in the Soo.

“Obviously it felt great,” continued the Thunderbirds captain. “It was a good team effort and we definitely wanted those two games (3 & 4) back, but it’s good to have this one.”

Beavers forward Riley Nadeau got on the scoresheet on Sunday night with one assist.

Beavers goaltender Jackson Hjelle gave up two goals on thirty five shots in the loss while Thunderbirds netminder Colin Ahern made fourteen saves for the victory, including four in the first period and ten in the second.

The Thunderbirds, who now lead the West Division Semifinal series 3-2, will have a chance to take out the Beavers on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Blind River Community Centre in Blind River.

“We’re going to go into Blind River and play exactly how we did tonight,” concluded McDonald. “We just have to play our system and play our game.”

(Photo credit to Rod Aubertin/

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