There are four teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and two in the Superior International Jr. Hockey League that remain in pursuit of playoff championships in their respective loops.
No. 1 seed Soo Thunderbirds are facing off against no. 2 seed Soo Eagles in the NOJHL West Division finals and no. 1 seed Timmins Rock and no. 2 seed Hearst Lumberjacks are doing the same in the East Division.
Meanwhile, over in the SIJHL, it is no. 1 seed Kam River Fighting Walleye and no. 2 seed Red Lake Miners as the last two teams on skates.
Following is a snapshot glance at the three playoff series.
Soo Thunderbirds (38-5-5, 81 points) v. Soo Eagles (33-11-4, 70 points)
The Thunderbirds won 18 straight games to finish the regular season and then swept the Blind River Beavers in four straight games in the West semi-finals. The Eagles prevailed in six games over the Sudbury Cubs in the other West semi.
Just saying: Both teams have 1-2 goalie tandems of relative equality. Thunderbirds have home-ice advantage if the series goes seven. And while the Eagles will likely draw home crowds of 800+ at Pullar Stadium, the Thunderbirds like — and play well in — the boisterous environment of the Michigan Soo rink even though they are the road team. The Eagles are the definite underdogs. But who doesn’t like an upset?
Timmins Rock (33-8-7, 73 points) v. Hearst Lumberjacks (35-11-2, 72 points)
The Rock took the broom to the French River Rapids in four straight games in the East semi-finals. Meanwhile, it took the Lumberjacks six games to dispose of the Powassan Voodoos.
Just saying: Both teams are among the NOJHL attendance leaders. But both play well in one another’s rink. Both teams are deep from top to bottom at all positions and both are well coached by hometown lads. The key? Flip a coin and see if it lands in Timmins or Hearst.
Kam River Fighting Walleye (35-7-2, .818 winning percentage) v. Red Lake Miners (28-6-3, .797 winning percentage.)
The Fighting Walleye swept its cross-town rival Thunder Bay North Stars in one SIJHL semi-final while the Miners needed six games to sideline the very physical Dryden Ice Dogs in the other.
Just saying: Kam River may have more overall balance but Red Lake has more dangerous finishers up front. Kam River has a slight edge in net but Red Lake has a penchant for come-from-behind victories. Both teams are road warriors and both are well coached. The heart says first-year franchise Kam River wins the series but the head says Red Lake does. This has the makings of a seven-game series. Hockey TV, a bowl of fresh popcorn, and a few cold beer, here we come.