Eagles survive tremendous Thunderbirds rally

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – The Soo Eagles built up a five-goal lead into the third period then had to survive an impressive rally by the Soo Thunderbirds before eventually prevailing 7-6 in a shootout Sunday in an action-packed Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League thriller at John Rhodes Community Centre.

A lengthy power play helped the Eagles open the scoring early in the contest as Alan Evtimov chipped in his second of the season from the right of the crease after a couple of quality chances from in close prior to that.

The visitors then upped the lead to 2-0 late in the first frame off a rush into the Thunderbirds’ zone by Charlie Salem as he drove to the middle of the ice and sent a feed over to the left that was neatly redirected in by Brian Fiddes at 17:46.

Getting back into it with a man advantage of the their own, T-Birds defenceman Andrew Gibson powered his way up the right wing and proceeded to rip a shot into the top corner from the circle for his eighth goal, which leads all NOJHL blueliners.

Restoring their two-tally cushion later in the second stanza, the Eagles clicked on the power play once more beginning with Jack Mortson sending one across to Dylan Bachalo at the left point, who in turned zipped an attempt over to a waiting Marc LaFrance who deflected it into the open side past Thunderbirds’ netminder Noah Metivier.

Building on that, the road side tacked on two more in quick order to go up 5-1 on a pair of Jacob Swiatek markers.

His initial effort came at 12:37 as he slid in a low back hand finishing up a stretch pass up from Isaiah Gagerman and a feed off the stick of Fiddess.

He then finished off a rebound from the left circle to score 44 seconds apart.

The Eagles then added one more before the period was complete as they broke up a rush then came out on a two-on-one as Fiddes scored with help from LaFrance and Tanner Balsitis.

In the third, Gibson started his club’s comeback as he notched his second of the day and ninth overall as he wheeled out from the corner and put another past Eagles’ starter Gabe Rosek at 4:45 with his team up a player.

With a four-on-three skater advantage, the Thunderbirds got another as Kaden Dundas fed one across the blueline over to Zane Burleigh who moved in and whistled one past Rosek for his initial league tally.

Continuing to battle, the hosts tacked on another with just under four minutes to play with Samuel Lake burying a rebound from the left of the Eagles’ net.

Getting Metivier out for an extra attacker, the Thunderbirds got another in the late-going when Brock Santa Maria sent a pass across to Cooper Foster, who also converted from the left side.

The frenzied finish saw them tie it with 1.4 seconds remaining to force OT with Dundas jamming in the equalizer into the open side.

In extra time, it was free-wheeling with both teams trading quality chances, but neither side could connect, to send things to the shootout.

There, Chase Tallaire and Seth Ferguson, with the decider, both connected on snap shots for the Eagles while the Thunderbirds were stymied by Rosek to pull out the win.

Fiddes and Swiatek each had four-point days for the Eagles while Gibson and Kelsey Ouellet had three points apiece for the T-Birds.

Shots on goal finished 41-23 in the Eagles favour with Rosek picking up the win and Metivier, who was making his third start in less then 48 hours, suffered the setback in extra shots, in which his squad collected a point.

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