Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (March 26, 2012) - It took just four games for the Soo Thunderbirds to knock off their cross-border rival in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League Western Division finals. In Saturday's contest, the Ontario club beat the Soo Eagles 5-2. The win sends the Thunderbirds to the league championship against either the Sudbury Cubs or North Bay Trappers.
"We're all a little surprised that the series ended so quickly," Thunderbirds head coach Preston Mizzi said following the weekend win. "We battled hard. I'm proud of the guys, but it's only the first step towards our ultimate goal."
On Saturday night at the Pullar Stadium in Sault, Mich., the Eagles' Brian Depp drew first blood five minutes into regulation. Goals from Derek Battigan and Kurtis Barbarie then put the Thunderbirds up 2-1. In the second, two more goals - these coming at the hands of Micky Sartoretto and Nick Romano - gave the visiting team a 4-1 lead going into the third.
In the final frame, an early goal from Eagle Gavin Burach put the game somewhat in reach. An empty net goal from Josh Hicks with just one second remaining made it 5-2. And that's how it ended. Meanwhile, Thunderbirds goalie John Kleinhans, a deciding factor in the entire best-of-seven series, made 27 saves.
Johnnie's been key for us," said Mizzi. "He's been the best goalie in this league all season, and we expect him to be a driving force in wherever we go from here."
The Thunderbirds are now preparing to square off against the Eastern Division winner. In that series, between Sudbury and North Bay, the Cubs have a 3-2 lead. Game six is set for Tuesday night. When that series wraps up, the Thunderbirds' NOJHL championship schedule will be available at www.tbirdhockey.ca.