SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – An Oliver Smith power play marker with seven and a half minutes in regulation proved to be the game-winner as the Rayside-Balfour Canadians went on to defeat the Soo Thunderbirds 3-1 in a Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division meeting Wednesday night at John Rhodes Community Centre.
A tight-checking first period ended up scoreless with the Thunderbirds earning the best chance to get the board after ringing one off the goal post.
Sault Ste. Marie did connect early in the second stanza however, off a flurry around the Rayside-Balfour net, that resulted with Avery Rebek stuffing in a loose puck on top of Canadians goaltender David Bowen at 1:43.
Countering later in the frame, the visitors collected the equalizer off a turnover as Matthew Belanger skated into one in the left circle and fired a quick shot that beat Soo starter Colin Ahern at 8:33 to knot the affair at 1-1 in recording his first NOJHL goal.
Rayside-Balfour then converted in the third with the difference maker as Smith snapped an attempt from the high right circle that appeared to clip off a Thunderbirds defender and change direction just enough to sail past the outstretched glove of Ahern.
Heading into the late going, the Soo pulled their stopper with just over two minutes remaining in regulation for an extra attacker, but it was RBC’s Nicholas DeGrazia that swiped the puck off a Thunderbirds skater at his own blueline then sped down the ice and sealed the road triumph with an unassisted empty netter to round out the night’s scoring.
Bowen finished with 32 saves, including 14 in the third, to record the win while Ahern had 34 stops in defeat.
With the victory, the Canadians have now won three straight games to improve to 3-2-0 early in the season while 2-3-0 Soo dropped their third consecutive contest.
Game Photos courtesy of Bob Davies