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Beavers ready to begin playoff series with Thunderbirds

After a terrific regular season, the Blind River Beavers are ready to take on a big challenge as they face the Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds in the western division semi-final playoff series on the road to the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League championship. The Beavers, led by NOJHL scoring champion and presumptive most valuable player Caleb Serre, finished second in the regular season standings ahead of the perennially-strong Thunderbirds. However, the teams matched up very closely throughout their head-to-head battles throughout the season, and the best-of-seven series promises to produce a number of very close games featuring speed, toughness, great goaltending and highly entertaining hockey. The series kicks off at the Blind River Community Centre on Thursday evening at 7 p.m., with the Beavers also hosting the second game of the series on Saturday at 7 p.m. The series shifts to the John Rhodes Arena in Sault Ste. Marie for game three on Monday, March 16 and game four on Wednesday, March 18. If necessary, the series returns to Blind River for game five on Thursday, March 19, and to the Soo for game six on Saturday, March 21. The seventh and deciding game of the series, if necessary, would be played in Blind River on Monday, March 23. The home-ice advantage may play a key role in this series, as the Beavers had the best record in the NOJHL when playing at the Blind River Community Centre. The local squad won 21 times in 28 games at their home arena, while the T-Birds won 18 out of 28 games at the Rhodes Arena. The winner of the series between the Beavers and the Thunderbirds will move on to the NOJHL western division finals against the winner of the other semi-final series between the first-place Rayside-Balfour Canadians and the Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Eagles. The Eagles advanced to the semi-finals by defeating the Espanola Express in two straight games in their opening round playoff series. Naturally, the Beavers will be counting on Serre to continue his spectacular scoring feats that saw him lead the NOJHL in both goals (47) and assists (66) on his way to capturing the league’s scoring title. With the Thunderbirds undoubtedly gearing up to slow down Serre, the Beavers will have to get scoring support from a solid cast in order to get past the T-Birds. Fortunately, the Beavers have a number of speedy forwards who appear more than capable of stepping into the spotlight in the playoffs. Justin Mauro has returned from injury just in time for the playoffs, and the diminutive centre has the skill and smarts to become a huge contributor in the playoffs. In Mauro’s absence, forwards Lucas Adams, Kyle Quinn, Noah Minns and Devon Savignac have all displayed the ability to score goals and set up their teammates during the regular season. In addition, defensemen Nathan Balkwill, Jake Behnen and Bryan Clahassey have all been solid contributors to the Beavers’ offence this season. The Thunderbirds are much more balanced than the Beavers on offence, boasting eight players with more than 30 points during the regular season. They are led by rookie forwards Jacob Kovacs and Tyler Savard, but get regular goal production from players throughout their lineup. In goal, the Thunderbirds figure to go with Dakota Meyer, who has been very solid during the final two months of the regular season. The Beavers will counter with either of their two very good puck-stoppers in Jackson Hjelle or Dominic Boily, both of whom had outstanding seasons. As the most penalized team in the NOJHL, the Beavers will have to play smart hockey and stay out of the penalty box if they are to defeat the Thunderbirds. The Beavers racked up a league-high 851 minutes in the sin bin, compared to just 722 for the T-Birds. The Beavers appear to have a slight advantage over the Thunderbirds while enjoying the manpower advantage, as they have clicked on 19.5% of their power-play opportunities this season. By comparison, the T-Birds have converted on 17.3% of their power-play chances. The eventual winner of the NOJHL playoffs will advance to the Central Canadian Junior A Championship tournament in Fort Frances at the end of April. The winner of that event will compete for the Canadian National Jr. A Championship in May.

March 11, 2020 Local Sports
Local Sports

Beavers prepare for Thunderbirds in NOJHL playoffs

After winning two out of three games during their final road trip of the regular season, the Blind River Beavers are gearing up for what should be a highly competitive playoff series with the Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds. The Beavers ended the regular season by defeating the Rayside-Balfour Canadians 3-0 and the Elliot Lake Wildcats 7-1. However, they dropped a close 4-2 decision to the Thunderbirds, setting the stage for their match-up with the T-Birds in the best-of-seven games western division semi-finals starting the week of March 11 in Blind River. The victory over the Canadians was particularly satisfying for the Beavers, as they had been edged out by Rayside for top spot in the division during the regular season. In addition, it marked just the second win for the Beavers over the Canadians in eight meetings this season. Goalie Dominic Boily stole the show for Blind River, as he stopped all 45 shots by the Canadians to earn the shutout. It was the second shutout for Boily in his last three starts, and the veteran netminder acquired by the Beavers from the Elliot Lake Wildcats in the middle of the season earned the victory by thwarting the Canadians on numerous scoring opportunities throughout the contest. With Boily holding the fort in goal, Kyle Quinn took control of the offence for the Beavers and led them to victory with a pair of goals. Quinn opened the scoring in the first period with the help of Devon Savignac and Bryan Clahassey, and then made it 2-0 midway through the second period as he converted a feed from Lucas Adams. While the Canadians swarmed around the Beavers goal in an attempt to get back into the game in the third period, it was the Blind River team that remained calm in front of the stellar goaltending of Boily. Milos Todorovic teamed with Jake Behnen to make it 3-0 for the Beavers early in the final frame, and the Beavers used solid team defence to help Boily secure the shutout and hand the Canadians their first loss in regulation time in 2020. The battle against the Thunderbirds the following evening in Sault Ste. Marie provided a preview of the highly anticipated playoff series between the two clubs. The teams traded scoring chances, hard hits and terrific saves throughout the contest, with the Soo squad finally prevailing with a pair of goals late in the third period. A power-play goal by Adams from Clahassey and Caleb Serre put the Beavers ahead 1-0 early in the first period. The Beavers held the advantage until the midpoint of the second stanza, when MacKenzie Walkington tied the score at 1-1. The T-Birds assumed a 2-1 lead on a goal by Jacob Kovacs early in the third period, but the Beavers battled back to tie the score when Clahassey scored from AJ Campbell. With time running down in regulation time, Kurtis Rogers of the T-Birds found a way to beat Boily in the Blind River goal to give his team a 3-2 lead. Despite their best efforts, the Beavers were unable to beat Dakota Meyer in the T-Birds goal to tie the score. With Boily on the bench in the final seconds in favour of an extra attacker, Camden Findlay scored into the empty net to provide the insurance goal in a 4-2 victory for the Thunderbirds. In their final game of the regular season against their North Shore rivals in Elliot Lake, the Beavers scored early and often on their way to a lopsided victory. Justin Mauro and Noah Minns each scored a pair of goals for the Beavers, with singles from Adams and Andrew Malek. Serre had a goal and five assists in the contest, as the Beavers led 3-1 after the first period and 5-1 by the second intermission. The victory over the Wildcats gave the Beavers a final regular season record of 37 wins, 15 losses in regulation time and four more losses in overtime or shootouts for 78 points, good for second place in the western division of the NOJHL. Caleb Serre won the NOJHL scoring race with a total of 113 points while recording league-high totals of 47 goals and 66 assists, marking just the second time that a member of the Beavers has captured the scoring crown. The schedule for the playoff series between the Beavers and the Thunderbirds will be announced by the NOJHL next week.

March 5, 2020 Local Sports
Local Sports

Wildcats lose final two games of season

Blind River skates past Elliot Lake On Saturday, the Centennial Arena in Elliot Lake saw more than just the Wildcats final game of the season. The game, sponsored by Elliot Lake Pride, had the Wildcats in new jerseys, which had the rainbow colours. The puck was dropped at centre ice by Pride’s empress of Algoma Lady Anya Face and emperor of Algoma Steve Meawasige. The jerseys were sold to the public following the game. The Blind River Beavers picked up five-point nights from Caleb Serre and Noah Minns to lead their side to a 7-1 triumph over the Elliot Lake Wildcats in Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League action Saturday at the Centennial Arena. Blind River began quickly as they made it 2-0 before the contest was five minutes in on efforts from Justin Mauro and Minns. Kelvin Albert got one back for Elliot Lake before the midway mark of the opening frame only to see Beavers’ captain Serre collect his NOJHL-leading 47th tally of the campaign to make 3-1 after one period of play. It was more from the visitors just 39 seconds into the middle stanza as Andrew Malek potted his 16th with help from Jared Dupuis and Lucas Adams. Not done there, Mauro added his second of the evening and 15th overall eight minutes later as he finished off a Serre feed to add to the lead. Blind River then put the game away in the third with markers from Minns and Adams to complete the one-sided result. Beavers’ starter Dominic Boily made 56 stops to record the win while Jackson Hjelle handled three of three in late relief. Jonathan Lemaire faced 45 shots in the season-ending defeat for the Wildcats while back-up Noah Granata saved three of four he saw in just over two minutes of work.

March 5, 2020 Local Sports
Local Sports

Wildcats sign coach for two years

Recently, the Elliot Lake Wildcats signed head coach and general manager, Taureen White to a contract extension to the end of the 2022 season. “We are extremely happy to have Taureen with us for the next two seasons,” said club president, George Thomas. “He has done a tremendous job in the time he has been here and we are confident that Elliot Lake will have a competitive Junior ‘A’ team next season and for years to come.” Formerly of the Nepean Raiders of the CCHL, White took over duties as interim coach and general manager in December 2019. “I’m very happy to have reached a mutually acceptable agreement with the Wildcats,” said White. “While this year has been a difficult one for the team and the fans, I believe our rebuilding program is working and we now have the basis for a fast, strong and exciting team in the coming season.” White is a native of Nepean and his previous experience includes an associate coaching position with the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL, the head coach/GM of the Swan Valley Stampeders of the MJHL as well as the head coach and director of hockey operations with the Kingston Voyageurs of the OJHL, where he led the Vees to a conference final. White also spent time on the bench with the Battleford Northstars and the Brockville Braves and won a CCHL league title in 2011.

March 5, 2020 Local Sports

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