Photos: Bob Davies
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – A Kelsey Ouellet goal off an Andrew Gibson feed 12 and a half minutes into the second period proved to be the game-winner as the Soo Thunderbirds held off the Blind River Beavers 3-2 Thursday in the opening contest of their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division semifinal series at John Rhodes Community Centre.
Striking first, Sault Ste. Marie converted off a face off win that resulted in Youssef Chaouachi spinning in front of the net and sliding one past Blind River starter Patrick Boivin.
Adding another just as time expired in the first period, Michael Chaffay snapped one in at 19:59 after Ouellet made a nice move on a defender and set him up for a buzzer-beating one-timer.
Action in the second stanza saw Blind River get on the board at 8:15 as Dylan Hendrick was sent in alone off a long feed up ice and the Beavers’ forward cruised in and snapped a shot past Soo netminder Noah Zeppa.
Getting that back with seven and a half minutes to go in the period, the Thunderbirds use some terrific puck movement to apply heavy pressure and were rewarded when Gibson fired one in front from the side boards that was neatly redirected in by Ouellet.
Making things interesting once more, the Beavers made it 3-2 with plenty of time remaining as Ryan Doucette was able to convert from close range at 2:19.
Getting Boivin out for an extra skater in the late going, Blind River pressed to tie it and force overtime, but the Soo held firm the rest of the way to secure the opening night triumph.
Game 2 goes Saturday at 7 p.m., back at John Rhodes.
NOJHL West Division semifinal
Soo Thunderbirds vs. Blind River Beavers
Soo leads best-of-seven series 1-0
Game 1: Thunderbirds 3 Beavers 2
Game 2: Saturday, April 9 @ Soo 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 3: Sunday, April 10 @ Blind River 4 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
Game 4: Monday, April 11 @ Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
Game 5*: Wednesday, April 13 @ Soo 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 6*: Thursday, April 14 @ Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
Game 7*: Saturday, April 16 @ Soo 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)