NOJHL Finals Review: Soo Thunderbirds versus Cochrane Crunch

Copeland-McNamara_TrophyThe quest for the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League championship and the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy begins Saturday April 11th at 7:30 p.m. as the Soo Thunderbirds host the Cochrane Crunch in game one at Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

The following is a preview of this best-of-seven affair:

The Finals: This will mark the first-ever playoff meeting between the Thunderbirds and Crunch.

Sault Ste. Marie is no stranger to the league championship series as this will mark the fourth straight year the Thunderbirds have advanced all the way to the final and the sixth of the past seven campaigns.

They won it all back in 2012 and also went on to capture the Dudley-Hewitt Cup that season in Thunder Bay defeating the Stouffville Spirit of the Ontario Junior Hockey League in the title contest.

Soo also took the NOJHL title in 2009 claiming the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy.

The Crunch are making their league championship series debut in their inaugural season in Cochrane.

The Schedule: The following is the complete game schedule for the NOJHL final:

Copeland McNamara Cup Trophy Final
Soo Thunderbirds vs. Cochrane Crunch
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Saturday, April 11th @ Soo 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 2: Sunday, April 12th @ Soo 7:30 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 3: Thursday, April 16th @ Cochrane 7:30 p.m. (Tim Horton Event Centre)
Game 4: Friday, April 17th @ Cochrane 7:30 p.m. (Tim Horton Event Centre)
Game 5*: Monday, April 20 @ Soo 7:00 p.m. (Essar Centre)
Game 6*: Wednesday, April 22 @ Cochrane 7:00 p.m. (Tim Horton Event Centre)
Game 7*: Friday, April 24 @ Soo 7:00 p.m. (Essar Centre)
*-if necessary

The Trophy: Some background on the history of the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy, which goes annually to the NOJHL playoff champion.

The Copeland Cup was presented to the Northern Ontario Hockey Association by Mr. A.E. Copeland, of Midland, President of the Ontario Hockey Association from 1920-22, and a great friend of Northern Ontario.

The Cup is emblematic of the NOHA Junior “A” final series.

The George McNamara Trophy was presented to the NOHA to be emblematic of the championship of the southern section of the Junior “A” category.

McNamara was one of the most ardent hockey fans in the NOHA.

He played for Sault Ste. Marie in the old International League, Cobalt Silver Kings, Montreal Shamrocks, Halifax Crescents, Toronto Tecumsehs, Toronto and the famous 228th Battalion and concluded his active hockey participation by coaching the Soo Greyhounds to the Allan Cup in 1924.

How They Advanced: The Soo have reeled off eight wins in nine outings in punching their ticket to the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy final.

They breezed in quarter-final play sweeping the Blind River Beavers in four straight contests.

Moving on to the West Division final vs. the Elliot Lake Wildcats, the Thunderbirds were strong as well building up a three games to none lead before eventually taking the best-of-seven set 4-1.

They have outscored their opponents 65-10 so far in postseason play and are 5-0 on home ice and 3-1 as the visitor.

As for the Crunch, they took on the Abitibi Eskimos in quarter-final action and came out on top winning the series in six.

Moving on to the East Division final they met an upstart Powassan Voodoos squad, who just knocked off the defending NOJHL Champion Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to earn their place in the divisional title match-up.

In the East final Cochrane got off to a quick start offensively and never looked back as they went on to sweep the Voodoos and earn their way into the league championship series.

The Crunch has scored 53 times in their first 10 playoff games and has allowed 33 against.

Cochrane is 3-2 at the Tim Horton Event Centre to date in the postseason and 5-0 on the road having yet to lose as the visiting side.

Head – to – Head: The Thunderbirds and Crunch met four times during the course of the regular season with each side winning twice.

Ironically it was the visiting team that won all four contests.

Nicolas Tassone and Brett Jeffries led the Soo in points vs. Cochrane with four apiece with Henry Berger doing likewise for the Crunch against the Thunderirds.

The penalty kill by both teams was solid in head-to-head play with the Thunderbirds picking up the lone power play in their 13 chances.

Cochrane was completely stymied as they went 0-21 with the man advantage overall in the four games.

Here’s a recap of those four meetings.

November 7th @ Cochrane: Tthunderbirds 4 Crunch 0 – Mario Culina stopped all 33 shots he faced to register the shutout, in the Thunderbirds first-ever visit to Cochrane.

Joey Miller paced the Soo offensively scoring once and doling out two assists while Nicolas Tassone chipped in with two assists.

December 5th @ Soo: Crunch 3 Soo 2 – Cody Gratton scored all three tallies for the Crunch as his hat trick led Cochrane to victory at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

Brett Jeffries had two assists for the Thunderbirds.

Brett Young made 29 saves in picking up the win while Brian Kment faced 30 shots in defeat for the Soo.

January 29th @ Soo: Crunch 5 Soo 2 – Aviv Milner notched a pair of markers with Daniel Stagg and Henry Berger picking up a goal and an assist each to pace Cochrane to another triumph at the John Rhodes C.C.

Young made 23 stops in picking up the decision with Culina allowing four on 32 attempts before Cochrane iced it with an empty netter.

February 7th @ Cochrane: Soo 5 Cochrane 2 – The Thunderbirds got two points apiece from Jaren Bellini, Nicolas Sicoly, Boris Katchouk, Anthony Miller and Nicolas Tassone as Sault Ste. Marie skated to the road decision in Cochrane.

Dustin Cordeiro notched both goals for the Crunch.

Brian Kment turned aside 33 of 35 in earning the triumph while Brett Young saved 35 of 39 in suffering the setback, with the final Soo tally going into an empty net.

The Thunderbirds: Six different Sault Ste. Marie skaters have reached double digits in playoff scoring so far.

Leading the way is Matt Caruso with 18 points, including a league-high 14 goals.

Jaren Bellini is next with 15 followed by Anthony Miller’s 14.

Owen Headrick tops all NOJHL defencemen with nine tallies while his 12 points also pace all league blueliners.

Nicolas Sicoly also has a dozen points to his credit and Matt Pinder has 10.

Brian Kment is 6-1 in the postseason in net for the Thunderbirds with a NOJHL-best four shutouts.

Kment also has a stingy 1.29 goals-against average and a solid .942 save percentage in the playoffs so far.

Mario Culina meanwhile is 2-0 with a 0.50 average and .967 save mark, including one shutout.

In their first nine postseason contests the Soo power play has excelled, firing at a 34.4% success rate.

They are at 79.2% while on the penalty kill.

The Crunch: Seven different Cochrane forwards have amassed 10 or more points in the 2015 playoffs to date.

Pacing the group is Dustin Cordeiro, who leads all NOJHL players with 20 points on 10 tallies and as many helpers.

Cody Gratton is next with 18 points as he has scored seven times and set-up 11 others. He is also knotted for second in overall postseason production.

Josh Racek and Jason Berube have a dozen points apiece while Daniel Stagg, Henry Berger and Dylan Sakatch all have 11 each.

Captain Max Glashauser leads all Crunch defencemen in scoring with seven points.

Brett Young has played all but 20 minutes between the pipes for Cochrane with his eight victories leading all NOJHL netminders.

He has a 3.02 average and a .912 save percentage in 10 starts posting an 8-2 record.

Special teams see the Crunch having gone 14.6% with the man advantage and 76.7% while they have been shorthanded.

Next Up: Awaiting the NOJHL champion will be a berth in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Jr. A event April 28th through May 2nd in Fort Frances, Ontario.

They’ll be joined by the host Fort Frances Lakers and the Dryden GM Ice Dogs of the Superior International Junior Hockey League along with the winners from the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

As the Lakers are hosting the DHC, Dryden earned an automatic berth by advancing to the SIJHL’s Bill Salonen Cup final vs. Fort Frances.

The defending SIJHL champion Lakers lead that best-of-seven final 1-0 heading into Game 2 this evening in Fort Frances.

Meanwhile the OJHL Buckland Cup championship features the reigning league and Dudley-Hewitt Cup winning Toronto Patriots taking on the Kingston Voyageurs.

That best-of-seven affair gets underway Saturday night in Toronto.

Source: NOJHL Communications

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