Coming off back to back wins over the Soo Eagles on March 4th and 5th, the second place (42-11-1-1) Soo Thunderbirds closed out the 2017 Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season in their third straight game in three days on March 6th against the seventh place (28-23-3-1) Rayside Balfour Canadians at the Essar Centre in Sault Ste Marie.
1:11 into the game, Thunderbird Gage Stephney fires his 16th of the season to give the Soo a 1 – 0 lead on an unassisted Soo goal. Matt Caruso sinks his 29th of the season for the Soo with Stephney and Wyatt Villalta drawing the contributors at 14:42 of the opening period. Stepheny registers his third point of the contest 5:44 into the middle stanza with a helper on affiliate player Braden Caruso to bring the Soo’s lead to 3 – 0. Sean Emmerson’s adds to the Thunderbirds lead with his eighth on the season at 8:31 of the period on a Soo unassisted goal. With seven seconds left in the period, Greg Smith scores his 11th of the season to send the Thunderbirds into the second intermission up 5 – 0. Villalta and Ryan Mulligan notched the assists on Smith’s goal.
Stephney and Zach Senecal set up Keegan Stevenson 6:29 into the final period to increase to lead to 7 – 0 on Stevenson’s 12th of the season. With 3:29 left in the Thunderbirds final regular season game of 2016 – 2017, Kaidan McDonald finds the back of the Canadians net for his fifth of the season. Soo goaltenders Dougie Newhouse and Brandon Gordon shared the duties between the pipes with Newhouse making 13 saves in the first 31:10 while Gordon made seven saves in the final 28:50 in the Thunderbirds 56th game of the season.
The Thunderbirds will now wait for the winner between the Soo Eagles and Elliot Lake Wildcats in the best of three quarter – final series that begins on game one – Friday, March 10th @ Soo Eagles 7:30 p.m. (Pullar Stadium), game 2 – Saturday, March 11th @ Elliot Lake 7:30 p.m. (Centennial Arena), game 3 if necessary – Tuesday, March 14th @ Soo Eagles 7:30 p.m. (Pullar Stadium).