It’s three down and four to go on the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League playoff run.
Abitibi Eskimos, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Blind River Beavers are on the sidelines until next season, leaving the North Bay Trappers, Sudbury Cubs, Soo Thunderbirds and the reigning champion Soo Eagles in this year’s title hunt.
North Bay will face Sudbury in one best-of-seven semi-final while the Twin Soo teams will do border battle in the other.
SUDBURY V. NORTH BAY
The first-place Cubs swept cellar-dwelling Kirkland Lake in four straight in the opening round while the third-place Trappers netted a surprising five-game triumph of Abitibi. Sudbury begins this series as the favourite led by the three-pronged scoring exploits of Jordan Carroll, Jamie Haines and Nick Esposto. While the Cubs can light it up there are question marks about their goaltending, defence and discipline, not to mention a lack of coaching experience. North Bay, on the other hand, having won its first playoff series under the Trapper moniker, is playing good all-around hockey. 20-year old retread Brad Gehl had nine goals in the series win over Abitibi and Matthew Salituro and Brandon Janke are also riding high. North Bay has its own question mark between the pipes, though Carmine Alfano won both of his starts and had a 1.96 goals against average and .909 save percentage against a tough Abitibi team. I am going to roll the dice and go with the upset here. NORTH BAY IN SIX.
THUNDERBIRDS V. EAGLES
The Thunderbirds, who have finished in first place in each of the past two regular seasons, will be out to avenge last spring’s playoff loss to the Michigan-based Eagles. An award-winning, all-star laden outfit, the Thunderbirds have the NOJHL’s best team on paper led by forwards Micky Sartoretto, Matt Amadio, Brett Campbell, Nick Romano, Jake Wright, Greg Sartoretto and Kevin Michelcavage, defencemen Corey Jackson and Brad Pascall and goalie John Kleinhans. But never underestimate the Eagles and the likes of forwards Brian Depp, Dallas McLaughlin and Matt Wiggemansen, defencemen Derek Diaz (who still has two games to serve on a questionable eight-game suspension) and Tyler Jones and goalies Luis Puig and Chris Truehl. This series could be the swan song for the Eagles, who will depart for the North American Hockey League effective the 2012-13 season. I like the Eagles a lot but methinks the Thunderbirds have more to prove. THUNDERBIRDS IN SIX.