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NOJHL playoff series preview: Soo Thunderbirds vs. Blind River Beavers

SUDBURY, Ont. – The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division semifinal match-up between the No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds and the No. 4 Blind River Beavers begins Saturday at 7 p.m. at John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was back in 2015 when the Thunderbirds not only went on to win the series, but also captured the NOJHL championship as well as the Dudley-Hewitt Cup.

This is the Thunderbirds initial postseason action of 2019 after finishing first overall in the league standings and earning a first round bye.

Blind River advanced to this divisional semifinal after knocking off the Elliot Lake Wildcats 2-0 in their best-of-three match-up.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: In eight meetings the two clubs had during the regular season, and the Soo came away victorious in each contest, outscoring the Beavers by a 33-21 count.

Five of those games were decided by just one goal however, including one in overtime and another via the shootout.

Kaidan McDonald, Spencer Van Tiem and Tristan Cicchello had two game-winning goals apiece for the Thunderbirds against Blind River this season with McDonald also helping set-up two others.

SCORING: Lucas Theriault and Noah Boman paced the Thunderbirds in scoring vs. Blind River this season with 11 points each.

Kaidan McDonald was next with nine points followed by Tristan Cicchello with eight.

Theriault and Boman also tied for the league-lead in points during the regular season with 76 apiece. Theriault was tops in tallies with 40 and game-winning goals with nine while Boman led in assists with 52.

Of note, of the nine goals Spencer Van Tiem had on the year, five of them were game-winners, which tied him for fourth in the NOJHL in that category.

Riley Nadeau was the top point getter for Blind River vs. the Soo with nine on three markers and six helpers.

Ryan Peck and Nash Hatcher followed him with seven points each. Hatcher had four goals, which tied him with Brendan Young to lead the team vs. the Thunderbirds.

Peck led the Beavers offensively against the Wildcats in that series with three goals and as many assists.

Caleb Serre and Nadeau were right behind him with five points apiece.

Serre finished seventh in NOJHL scoring in 2018-19 with 61 points, including 25 goals.

GOALTENDING: Thunderbirds netminder Colin Ahern had a 6-0 record vs. the Beavers with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

William Anderson of the Soo went 2-0 with a 2.40 GAA and a .918 save mark.

The duo also won the NOJHL’s Team Goaltending Award for allowing the fewest goals against during the regular season at 145 and combined to register 44 wins overall.

Garret Boyonoski saw the bulk of the work in net for Blind River against the Thunderbirds getting the start in five of the games while Jackson Hjelle started twice.

Boyonoski was 2-0 in the series triumph over Elliot Lake with a 2.00 average and a save percentage of .938.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Soo went a solid 11-49 on the power play against the Beavers while Blind River was 4-32.

Neither side had a shorthanded goal against their opponent.

AWARD WINNERS: Among those in this series that earned NOJHL awards this season are Steven Bellini of the Thunderbirds who was named the league’s top defenceman and best overall team player as well as picking up first team all-star laurels on defence.

Lucas Theriault was tabbed NOJHL scoring champion and most improved player and a second team all-star.

Noah Boman was a first team all-star selection while Blind River’s Caleb Serre earned second team honours.

OHL CUP: Blind River bench boss Kyle Brick had double duty this week as he’s also coaching Team NOHA this week at the OHL Cup minor midget event in Toronto before returning home to begin the series with the Soo.

WHAT’S NEXT: The winner of this match-up will meet either the Rayside-Balfour Canadians or Soo Eagles in the NOJHL West final.

All NOJHL playoff games are streamed live, and on demand, on HockeyTV.com.

West Division semifinal
No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 4 Blind River Beavers
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Saturday, March 16 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 2: Sunday, March 17 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 3: Tuesday, March 19 @ Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
Game 4: Friday, March 22 @ Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
Game 5*: Sunday, March 24 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 6*: Tuesday, March 26 @ Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
Game 7*: Wednesday, March 27 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
*-if necessary

With files from NOJHL Statistician/Historian David Harrison