SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – Gabriel Rheault had the game-winning goal with 14 and a half minutes remaining while Ryan O’Bonsawin dished out three assists to lead the Rayside-Balfour Canadians to a 4-3 triumph over the Soo Thunderbirds Wednesday in Game 3 of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s West Division Final at John Rhodes Community Centre.
The outcome gives the Canadians a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 4 Thursday back at John Rhodes Community Centre at 7:30 p.m.
Sault Ste. Marie opened the night’s scoring nearly seven minutes into the contest off a face-off win deep in Rayside-Balfour territory as Thunderbirds’ defenceman Tristan Cicchello darted in from the left point and snapped a shot over the shoulder of Brayden Lachance.
The Canadians would tie it in the waning moments of the first after breaking out of their own zone with a couple of crisp passes that resulted in Kyle Liinamaa finishing off the feed of teammate Jacob Partridge at 19:40.
On the man advantage early in the middle session, the visitors took their first lead as veteran forward Matthew Neault redirected a point blast that eluded Eric Schuch in the Soo net.
Special teams helped Rayside-Balfour add another a Partridge flew down the right wing while his side was shorthanded, as he cut hard around a Thunderbirds defender before stuffing the puck under the outstretched pad of a sprawled Schuch at 12:08.
A furious pace to commence the third period saw the home side pull to within one on a two-man advantage as Cicchello collected his second of the night 53 seconds into the frame.
Sill on the power play the Thunderbirds’ D-man then finished off a hat trick at 1:37 to knot the affair at 3-3.
Regrouping, the Canadians came back to get the game-winner off the stick of Rheault at 5:31 as his third of the playoffs proved to be the decider.
The Soo pressed the pace in the late going to try and level the proceedings once more and force overtime, however Lachance slammed the door shut the rest of the way to give his side the series lead.
Shots on net favoured the Thunderbirds 44-32.
West Division Final
No. 1 Rayside-Balfour Canadians vs. No. 2 Soo Thunderbirds
Rayside-Balfour leads best-of-seven series 2-1
Game 1: Soo 2 Rayside-Balfour 0
Game 2: Rayside-Balfour 3 Soo 2 (OT)
Game 3: Rayside-Balfour 4 Soo 3
Game 4: Thursday, April 5 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game 5: Sunday, April 8 @ Rayside-Balfour 4 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
Game 6*: Monday, April 9 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7:30 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game7*: Wednesday, April 11 @ Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
*- if necessary
Photos courtesy of James Egan’s Sports Photography