On paper, this looms as a whitewash of a playoff series.
For starters, first-place Soo Thunderbirds finished 75 points ahead of eighth-place Blind River Beavers during the 2013-2014 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular season.
Then there’s the fact that the Thunderbirds won all eight of their regular-season meetings with the Beavers.
And while it would be a big surprise if the Beavers extended the Thunderbirds in the opening-round, best-of-seven playoff series that begins on Saturday night at the Essar Centre, the Soo is not taking Blind River for granted.
“We can’t think about what happened during the regular season,” said Thunderbirds captain and league scoring champion Gavin Burbach, a 1993 birth-year forward. “Playoffs are a different story and Blind River is going to want to pull off the big upset.”
Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain said the Soo can’t afford to look past Blind River.
“Anything can happen in a playoff series and Blind River has played us tough a couple of times this season,” Cain said evenly. “Having said that, I have every confidence in our team.”
To be sure, with 99 points from a regular-season record of 48-5-3, the Thunderbirds are an impact team.
The Thunderbirds strength begins between the pipes.
Second-year goalie, Joel Horodziejczyk — a Cain recruit from the Greater Sudbury Area — is not only the NOJHL’s best goalie but the league’s most valuable player as well.
“At this level, they don’t come any better than Joel,” said Cain.
There is much to like about the Thunderbirds, who are led by no-nonsense, NOJHL coach-of-the-year Jordan Smith.
Forward Darcy Haines averaged two points per outing in 33 games after joining the Thunderbirds via trade and along with Burbach, form a dangerous offensive duo.
Then, for good measure, there are veteran forwards Anthony Miller and Joey Miller — who combined for 50 goals during the regular season — and menacing winger Grant Syrette, a former Ontario Hockey Leaguer who prowls the ice as one of the most-feared fowards in the NOJHL.
There is Jaren Bellini, a 1996 birth-year forward and OHL draft pick of the Soo Greyhounds who has shown steady progress throughout the season to go with a tireless work ethic.
Back of the blueline is a brickwall brigade led by the league’s top defenceman, Tyler Jones.
Backing up Jones are fellow veterans David Radke, Shane Snow and Jeremy Solomon — and NOJHL rookie-of-the-year Owen Headrick.
The Beavers come into the series led by 20-goal scorer Tyson McLeod and Tim Perks, who potted 8 goals, 6 assists, 14 points in just 18 games.
The Beavers also feature serviceable forwards such as Soo product Jacob Boisvenue and Jacob Zarzycki.
Blind River is better-than-average in net with junior veteran Dylan Knox and rookie Jessie Morin.
Knox, for sure, has the ability to steal a game and has played well against the Thunderbirds this season.
A 1993 birth-year, Knox — who hails from Plantation, Florida — will be hoping to end his junior career in style and further impress the National Collegiate Athletic Association scouts and recruiters.
And while the Beavers finished the regular season with a mere 24 points from a record of 10-42-4, coach Don Gagnon’s crew did show improvement over the final 14 games with a mark of 5-8-1.
Do the Beavers have a chance to win this series?
Just not a very good one.
Following is the schedule for the Thunderbirds-Beavers playoff series.
Saturday, March 15. Blind River at Soo, 7:30 p.m, Essar Centre.
Sunday, March 16. Soo at Blind River, 4 p.m., Community Centre.
Thursday, March 20. Blind River at Soo, 7:30 p.m., Essar Centre.
Saturday, March 22. Soo at Blind River, 7:30 p.m., Community Centre.
Sunday, March 23. Blind River at Soo, 7:30 p.m., Essar Centre.
Tuesday, March 25. Soo at Blind River, 7:30 p.m., Community Centre.
Wednesday, March 26. Blind River at Soo, 7:30 p.m., Essar Centre.
PHOTO: Soo Thunderbirds rookie forward Jaren Bellini. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)