For more than 28 minutes, the visiting Espanola Express stayed on track with the Soo Eagles in Wednesday’s opening game of the best-of-three, preliminary-round, Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League playoff series.
But two goals just 16 seconds apart beginning at the 8:30 mark of the second period increased the Eagles lead over the Express to 3-0. And while Espanola scored less than three minutes later to make the score 3-1, the Soo netted a last-minute marker to increase its margin to 4-1 at the end of the second stanza.
Then, three goals in the third period by the Eagles turned a once-close game into a route and the home side finished off a decisive 7-1 triumph before just under 450 fans at Pullar Stadium in the Michigan Soo.
Seven different players scored for the Eagles as Dominic Skrelja, Joel Brandinger, Chase Tallaire, Eric Vanderhoff, Hayden Clark, Richard Boulware and Brice French all bulged the twine behind Express goalie Joel Rainville.
Lukas Lyszyk scored the only goal for Espanola, beating Soo goalie Shane Brancato, who made 32 saves.
Brancato (in photo above) was at his absolute best in the first period, making several big saves as the Eagles took a narrow 1-0 lead into the dressing room.
Besides picking up an assist, rookie Eagles forward Jacob Bumbacco was noticeable in spot duty with his endless energy and relentless forecheck.
Game 2 in the West Division series is slated for Friday night at 7:30 in Espanola. Should a third game be needed, it will be back at Pullar Stadium in the Michigan Soo on Saturday night at 7:00.
The winner of the series between the no. 4 seed Eagles and the no. 5 seed Express will face the no. 1 seed Rayside Balfour Canadians in a best-of-seven, West Division semi-final.
The other West Division semi will pit the no. 2 seed Blind River Beavers against the no. 3 seed Soo Thunderbirds.
The best-of-three preliminary-round series between no. 4 seed Cochrane Crunch and no. 5 seed Kirkland Lake Gold Miners gets underway tonight. Game time is 7:00 p.m. in Cochrane.
The winner of the series will face off against the no. 1 seed Powassan Voodoos in one East Division semi-final.
The other semi-final will feature the no. 2 seed Timmins Rock and no. 3 seed Hearst Lumberjacks.