T-Birds vs Crunch Finals Preview

Rod Aubertin: SSMPhotos.com

By Matt Stefano

After wrapping up the West Division Finals series in five games last Saturday vs Elliot Lake, the Soo Thunderbirds have now advanced to the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League finals for the fourth consecutive season and will face the Cochrane Crunch. The first year franchise finished second in the East Division with sixty points, twenty back of the defending champions Kirkland Lake Gold Miners. Thirty five year old Elliot Lake, Ontario native Ryan Leonard, who is the club’s head coach, general manager and owner, also played the 2000-2001 season with the Thunderbirds scoring twelve goals and twenty seven points through twenty eight games along with collecting thirty eight penalty minutes.

Crunch forward Dustin Cordeiro leads the NOJHL postseason with twenty points while T-Birds rookie forward Matt Caruso leads the league with fourteen playoff goals passing his regular season totals where he had thirteen. Caruso who doesn’t turn eighteen until April 26th also broke the Thunderbirds record for most goals scored in a playoff season passing Jeff Rainville (2003), Matt Caria (2005) and Nick Minardi (2009) who all had twelve. T-Birds twenty year old net minder Brian Kment leads the NOJHL postseason in goals against average (1.29), save percentage (.942) and shutouts (4). The Soo Greyhounds free agent also broke the T-Birds record for most career postseason shutouts with five, passing Ryan Dube (2006-2009) and Adam Hanna (2001-2002) who both had four along with tying the team record for most shutouts in a season with four, with the same goalies.

Through four regular season meetings this year vs the Crunch, the T-Birds have won two and lost two, while out scoring Cochrane 13-10.

Regular season results:

W 4-0 Fri, Nov 7th at Cochrane
(J. Miller 1g 2a/ Culina 33 saves)

L 3-2 Fri, Dec 5th at Soo
(Jeffries 2a)

L 5-2 Thurs, Jan 29th at Soo
(Jeffries 1g)

W 5-2 Sat, Feb 7th at Cochrane
(Bellini 2g)

Partial finals schedule:

Game 1: Sat, April 11th at 7:30 Soo (Essar Centre)

Game 2: Sun, April 12th at 7:30 Soo (Essar Centre)

Game 3: Thurs, April 16th at 7:30 Cochrane (Tim Horton Event Centre)

Game 4: Fri, April 17th at 7:30 Cochrane (Tim Horton Event Centre)

* Games 5,6 and 7 if necessary T.B.A.

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Matt had graduated from Sault College in the General Arts and Sciences program in 2011 and has been working in the sports field ever since. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native has worked as an Athletics Assistant in the Sault College Athletics Department during his final year of school in 2011. After graduating, Stefano worked for two years at the George Leach Centre from 2011-2013 for the Algoma University Thunderbirds Varsity Basketball Games as an Athletics Assistant. From 2013 on, Stefano has been working as the Soo Thunderbirds communications person and has also been volunteering with Shaw TV Sault Ste. Marie since 2014, doing Soo Thunderbirds TV Segments.