Dimitris Jones’ drive from the left point deflected off Long Beach defenseman Nick Short into the Bombers’ goal 4:46 into overtime Saturday night in McCall to give the Idaho Junior Steelheads a 3-2 victory, a sweep of the two game series against Long Beach, and the opportunity to defend their Thorne Cup championship in the next couple of weekends against the Colorado Junior Eagles.
The Junior Steelheads, winners of the Northwest Division of the WSHL, had defeated the Bombers Friday night 2-0, with goaltender Sergei Pysarenko earning his 11th shutout of the season.
The Bombers were winners of the Western Division, eliminating both the Fresno Monsters and Valencia Flyers to earn the trip to Idaho for the league semi-finals
The Junior Steelheads had swept through the Whitefish Wolverines and Missoula Maulers on the way to this weekend’s series.
Jones’ unorthodox goal ended a fierce battle which saw Idaho’s Kyle Williams open the scoring with a power play goal with 1:04 left in the first period, assists going to Nikita Zgirskis and Parker Lewis.
The Bombers tied the game at 1-1 on a Markus Lindholm goal, from Amir Burguev, 12:47 into the second period.
The Junior Steelheads regained the lead on a power play tally by Oleg Losev 15:46 into the period, with Jones drawing an assist.
With 5:41 remaining in the third period, Long Beach forced overtime with the tying goal by Anders Romegård, assisted by Lindholm.
In the overtime, the stingy Junior Steelheads defense held Long Beach without a shot on goal, while the third Idaho shot, launched by Jones, was the series winner.
Pysarenko played goal for the second night in a row, and added 23 saves to the 29 he made in the Friday night shutout.
Friday it was the two Idaho co-captains, Jones and Williams, scoring the goals.
Jones blistered a shot past Bombers netminder Daniel Kornakker four seconds past the halfway point of the second period after catching a pass from Macky Power.
Williams added the insurance with a shorthanded goal in a three-on-four skating situation 7:17
into the third period.
Kornakker saved 27 shots Friday night and 22 on Saturday before being totally surprised by the
deflection off his teammate that got past him.
The Junior Steelheads will now play the best of five Thorne Cup final against the Colorado Eagles, who got an overtime goal themselves in the third and deciding game in Oklahoma City on Sunday afternoon.
Trenton Hines got the game winner 11:33 into the overtime period, as the Mountain Division champions defeated the Midwest Division champion Blazers.
The Junior Steelheads played the Eagles in their first game of last December’s league Showcase in Las Vegas. The Eagles won that contest 2-1, with all goals coming in the first half of play. It was the first of the four one-goal games Idaho played in the Showcase.
The first two games of the finals will be at NoCo Ice Arena in the Fort Collins/Windsor area of Colorado next weekend, with the remaining games in McCall beginning Friday, April 15. If neither team has swept the first three games, Saturday, and perhaps Sunday, games will be played to determine whether the Junior Steelheads will be able to win their fifth Thorne Cup in six years.
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