SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – A Nathan Balkwill goal in the eighth round of the shootout proved to be the difference maker as the Blind River Beavers pulled out a narrow 3-2 decision over the Soo Thunderbirds in Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League action Saturday at John Rhodes Community Centre.
A fast-paced first period saw neither side manage to connect offensively thanks to the efforts of the starting goalkeepers, Alex Bugeja of Sault Ste. Marie and Blind River’s Wyatt Courchaine.
Moving to the middle stanza, some great forechecking off a draw helped the Soo open the scoring at 5:44 that eventually resulted in Michael Chaffay one-timing a quick blast from the slot that flew past Courchaine.
Going to the power play, the visitors drew level just as the penalty had expired that featured some crisp puck movement and was finished off by Lucas Adams parked to the right of the net.
The Beavers then capitalized with the man advantage late in the period as Devin Mauro stuffed in a chance from in close during a goal-mouth scramble to give the guests a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Heading to the late going, the Thunderbirds tied it with 4:52 remaining while on a man advantage that resulted in Brock Santa Maria left alone in front where he outwaited Courchaine and potted the equalizer.
In extra shots, both the Soo’s Santa Maria and the Beavers’ Jacob Kelly connected with the second chance for both teams.
Then following 11 straight stops by the goaltenders, Balkwill ended it as the Blind River defenceman skated in and went five-hole to finish things off and give his side the extra point on the night.
Courchaine finished with 42 stops in 60 minutes of work, along with seven of eight in the shootout to record the win.
Bugeja meanwhile had 37 saves on the night and turned aside six of eight in extra attempts.
The clubs will cap off a weekend home-and-home Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Blind River Community Centre.
Game Photos: Bob Davies