ELLIOT LAKE – A Cole Hepler goal 1:47 into overtime was the difference as the Elliot Lake Wildcats prevailed 6-5 over the Soo Thunderbirds Friday evening in Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League play at Centennial Arena.
It was a good start for the home side as Elliot Lake jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one period on markers by Aaron Carmichael and Shane Woolsey.
Special teams allowed Sault Ste. Marie to get back into it early in the second as Matt Busby connected during a man advantage opportunity at 2:20.
The Wildcats restored their two-tally margin however just 43 seconds later as Nicholas Legault notched his first NOJHL goal as part of a four-point night for the Elliot Lake defenceman.
After Boris Katchouk pulled the T-Birds closer once again at 6:48, Nate Sepeda struck in the final minute of the stanza to make it 4-2 through two.
Up a man, the visitors drew to within one early in the third as Katchouck potted his second of the evening 57 seconds in.
The back and forth affair saw Hepler strike at 2:21 making it 5-3, but the resilient Thunderbirds battled back to force extra time getting goals from Matt Caruso, via the power play, at 6:57 and then Brett Jeffries with 3:38 left in regulation.
In the OT, Hepler won it as he worked his way free from the boards and powered his way into the slot where he fired the game-winner past the outstretched glove of Soo goaltender Mario Culina to end it as he buried his 20th goal of the season while picking up his 50th point of the campaign in dramatic fashion.
Legault and Alec MacKenzie both had three assists each for the winning side with David Radke picking up a pair of helpers for the T-Birds.
Shots on goal favoured the Soo 33-26 with A.J. Smith picking up the win and Culina helping his team earn a point in defeat.