Thunderbirds v. Beavers a junior hockey treat to enjoy

In Sault Ste. Marie, we have playoffs courtesy of the Ontario Hockey League and Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

Greyhounds will be back in town this week and the Thunderbirds have advanced to the second round, having finally disposed of the pesky Blind River Beavers.

About those Beavers.

They may be a rag-tag team from an old mill town of 3,400, divided by Highway 17, but they gave the mighty Thunderbirds a scare in the first round of the NOJHL playoffs.

While the Thunderbirds did defeat the Beavers four games to one, three of those Soo wins were by a single goal.  Which wasn’t supposed to be the case, since the first-place Thunderbirds finished 75 points – yes, 75 points – ahead of the last-place Beavers during the regular season.

Most who follow the NOJHL in any way, shape or form were calling for the Soo to sweep Blind River in four straight and by scores such as 6-0, 7-2, 6-1 and 8-2.  But four of the five matches were decided by one goal and the only time Blind River wasn’t in it until the end was a 6-0 loss in Game 3.

Kudos to Thunderbirds and their rookie coach, Jordan Smith, for not letting panic set in and for showing the resolve that it took to finally eliminate the Beavers.

But we also say “Well done” to the Beavers and their coach, Don Gagnon, for making the series as close and exciting as they did.

We do not know what the 2014 – 2015 season will bring as far as the NOJHL is concerned.  Some teams are leaving, others are trying to figure a way to balance a budget in a league where costs are rising, but attendance is not.

All I know is that despite the difference in the size of the communites and the win-loss records, Soo v. Blind River continues to be a great little junior hockey rivalry.

I hope there is Tier 2 junior hockey in the Soo after this season.  Just as I hope there is in Blind River as well.  To be sure, it’s tough to sustain a junior hockey program with average crowds of 200 – 300 people.