Soo-KL for NOJHL crown

April 7, 2014

And then there were two.

One and two.

Soo Thunderbirds and Kirkland Lake Gold Miners were the top two teams during the 2013-2014 regular season.

Ergo, it seems only right that the Soo and Kirkland Lake have emerged from the first two rounds of the playoffs and will face off in a best-of-seven series for the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League championship.

The set will begin in the Soo with Games 1 and 2 slated for Saturday and Sunday nights at 7:30 at the Essar Centre.

The Soo disposed of Blind River Beavers in five games and Abitibi Eskimos in four straight to reach the finals.

Kirkland Lake is unbeaten thus far in the playoffs, having swept both the North Bay Trappers and Espanola Rivermen.

These are two teams, the Soo and Kirkland Lake, with major upsides.

Both have good goaltenders, quality defenceman and depth on the forward lines, complete with impact players.

On the subject of goaltending, the Thunderbirds boast the NOJHL’s most valuable player and first-team all-star in Joel Horodziejczyk.

But Horodziejczyk is sidelined with a lower-body injury and has not played since a Game 1 loss in the first round to Blind River.

In place of Horodziejczyk, Brian Kment has stepped in to play eight straight games, all of which the Soo has won.

Is Kment as good as Horodziejczyk?

Let’s just say that Kment’s playoff record of 8-0 with a 1.74 goals against average and .925 save percentage is a good one.

The Soo-KL series, to be sure, will feature considerable travel with the two towns a good seven-hour drive apart.

On ice, this looms as a matchup similar to a year ago when the Soo played North Bay in the finals and the Trappers won in seven games.

It starts with the coaches.

Both the Thunderbirds and Gold Miners are well-coached with Jordan Smith guiding the Soo bench and Marc Lafleur calling the shots for KL.

The goaltending should not be an issue either way, even if Horodziejczyk does not return to the Soo net. Not only has Kment played better and better as the playoffs have progressed, the rookie goalie has the confidence of the coaching staff.

Kirkland Lake, on the other hand, is in the good goaltending hands of starter Jeremy Pominville and backup Kenny Fitzgerald.

On the blueline, both teams have skilled puck-movers with Tyler Jones, David Radke and 1997 birth-year rookie Owen Headrick as the Thunderbirds top go-to-guys and Dan Morin and Jeremy Picard-Fiset a pair of high-end Gold Miners.

Offensively, while the Soo can unleash Gavin Burbach, Darcy Haines, Anthony Miller et al, KL can counter with Samuel Wilbur, Steve Babin, Austin Rust et al.

What will decide this series?

A coin-flip perhaps?

Seriously, this has the makings of a series — regardless of length — that will be dominated by one-goal games.

Take your pick on who will win.

PHOTO: Soo Thunderbirds rookie defenceman Owen Headrick. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)

What you think about “Soo-KL for NOJHL crown”

  1. Excellent well written preview, NOJHL fans will be the big winners here, should be an epic series. Too close to call, flip a coin.

  2. I think we will take this in 6 Games. Win the Series on Home Ice in Game #6. The Soo wont be able to solve the KL trap imho.

  3. This will be close games as Randy says & I beleive that the Gold Miners will prevale in 5 or 6.
    I do not think the Soos 2nd goalie is as good as the kid who won MVP.

  4. Not having Joel could hurt the Birds as I like Brian K but is he as good as Joel no sorry RR I do not think so. Nice of you to be nice tho but I dont see the Birds winning this with-out Joel unless they score more and Haines starts to play like he can.

  5. The Soo better find a way to solve the KL trap if they want to win this series! KL impressed me with how they plugged up the neutral zone and collapsed in front of the net like a well oiled machine in the Rivermen series. Without the Soos starting goalie this series just became winnable for KL. I think the smartest adapting coach will be the difference in this series. I would like to wish ALL the players good luck and I hope you have the time of your lives!!!! Hopefully a certain commish will stay out of this series because it is just not fair to the awesome players who put everything on the line for this!!!! Players first IMO!

  6. Should be a great series for Junior “A'” hockey fans, I’ll take the Miners in 6 games. good luck to both squads !

  7. I know for sure whom I wish to win but what I think means nothing on a blog since I’m not on skates nor shooting the puck. I think whoever is in the frame of mind of one inch, one foot, one yard, one zone and one game at a time will outlast the opponent. What I like about this is that, so far, there does not appear to be any diversion or agendas at play.

    Leave the puck drop, let the deserving 40 play and make us all proud to be a part of this series! Support these teams by attending their games and through Fasthockey! Enjoy! Straight hockey, guts and determination….and play every game like it’s the last game!

  8. i think Eskimos fans thought it might make a difference tha kment was in net and wed have a chance, but Kment was great after the first period of game one and allowed 3 goals the next 11 periods, one a deflection, another a rocket bar down that no tender in the league would of stopped! Hes good and got better as the series went on, i wouldnt say hes any less a tender than pominville or fitzgerald! The gold miners shoulnt be confident based on Hotodz not playing! i will say this though, hes not as smooth or as confident looking Horods is, but looks dont win anything! that being said, maybe hes fragile, get a few early and maybe youll get into his head!

    Full marks to the soo D as well, some big boys and they dont leave pucks laying around for long!

    Too close to call for sure, both are well coached and balanced! Soo kids were very patient and showed no panic whatsover even in game 3 of eskis series, I believe that is a spinoff of Smith, he is much calmer than Lafleur who can be a pack of nerves when they get down, I think if the soo gets up in this series by Game 3 theyll take it! dont get me wrong, this is a very winnable series for KL, theyll just need to push hard right to the very end and need their little guys to play like big guys! fans should get a great series and think either team will bring semi final berth at the Dudley!

  9. Well this has gone too far I put it all out there
    by manning up and posted my name. Well the
    fake twitter account @cihljra has decided
    to attack me. Not smart Jordan not smart at
    all. Sorry to everyone on here but this has
    gotten personal. That being said I like the t-birds
    but it won’t be easy. The trap may be boring
    but can be effective.

  10. Pretty sure the tbirds want to play all
    games at the Essar but will have to wait to see
    what happens with the hounds.

  11. sadly, only 274 fans to watch the Aurora Tigers and TLP in the OJ final.
    I’m sure KL and Soo can draw more than that.
    Going up to KL next week for games 3 and 4.

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