Motivated by multiple mammoth saves by goalie Nick Tallarico early on and when the score was close, Hearst Lumberjacks eventually hustled their way to a 7-3 road decision over the Soo Thunderbirds tonight.
The Game 2 win by Hearst over the Soo evened the best-of-seven, Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League championship series at 1-1. The Thunderbirds took Game 1 on Saturday by a 3-2 margin,
The series now shifts to Hearst for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday of this week in back-to-back 7 p.m. starts at Claude Larose Arena.
In today’s match that tied the series, Hearst took a 2-0 lead before the Soo scored a shorthanded marker and then took complete control of the game for several minutes only to be repeatedly thwarted by the goal-tending of Tallarico.
Tallarico wasn’t the only standout for the Lumberjacks, though.
Forwards Max Johnson, Max Griffioen and Brad Golant and defenseman Troy Daniels also stood out before a crowd of spectators at John Rhodes Community Centre that included more than 60 faithful followers who made the trek from Hearst to the Soo and showed up dressed in jerseys and hoodies in support of their team.
For the Thunderbirds, forward Nick Smith was a going concern throughout the game — even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill — while defenseman Steven Bellini also turned in an assertive effort.
Hearst coach-general manager Marc Lafleur was satisfied to head home with a split from Games and 1 and 2 against the no. 1 seed Soo.
“We are happy to have the split but we also know it is only one win for us and there are three extremely tough more games for us to try to win,” Lafleur told Hockey News North. “The T-Birds were the league’s top team for a reason and we know we are in for a battle ahead.”