The Soo Thunderbirds are now one game closer to the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League championship. In game two of the Western Division finals, the Ontario team beat their cross-border rival Soo Eagles 5-2 last night at Michigan’s Pullar Stadium. The win puts the Thunderbirds up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
Kurtis Barbarie opened up the scoring for the Canadian club less than six minutes into the game. About a minute later, Brett Campbell slipped one in, and the Thunderbirds took that 2-0 lead into the second period, where an early goal from Matt Amadio put the visiting team up by three.
While the offense delivered from the start, other things seemed to click as well. “We must have blocked at least 30 shots,” said Thunderbirds head coach Preston Mizzi. “We had guys getting in front of pucks. We had guys willing to take hits to make plays. It was an all-around effort, which is exactly how you have to play on the road, especially in the playoffs.”
The Eagles battle back, though, scoring two goals in the second from Brian Depp and Gavin Burbach. Just like that, it was a 3-2 game. “They pushed back,” said Mizzi. “In the last eight or nine minutes of the second period, they were all over us. But we managed to weather the storm and went into the third period with a lead.”
A main reason the Thunderbirds were able to stay in front of their opponent, according to the bench boss, was goalie John Kleinhans, who made 38 saves on the night. “He’s a guy who doesn’t back down and doesn’t flinch,” said Mizzi. “Johnnie made some huge saves when the score was close. He gave us a chance to put the game away.”
In the third period, that’s exactly what the Thunderbirds did. Barbarie notched his second of the night midway through the frame. Derek Battigin, who was awarded the game’s first star award, scored about five minutes later, giving the visitors a 5-2 lead. And that’s how it ended.
Despite the 2-0 lead in the series, Mizzi knows his team will have to continue to battle hard if they want the success to carry forward. “It’s nice to see things come together, but we’re only halfway done,” he said. “We have to stick with it and keep doing the same things.”
The NOJHL Western Division finals commence Friday night at the Essar Centre and Saturday at Pullar Stadium in Sault, Mich. Both games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
More information on the Thunderbirds, including playoff schedules and updated news, is available online at www.tbirdhockey.ca.
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