Thunderbirds blank Wildcats to clinch NOJHL West



Release Date: Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016

Thunderbirds blank Wildcats to clinch NOJHL West

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – The Soo Thunderbirds got two first period goals and rode a stout defense along with the shutout goaltending of Connor Ryckman to blank the Elliot Lake Wildcats 2-0 Saturday evening at Essar Centre as they won for a 40th time this season and also clinched the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s West Division title.

In the process, the Thunderbirds also put an end to the 22-game point streak of the Wildcats’ Cole Hepler, who was held off the score sheet for just the fifth time this season.

Sault Ste. Marie got the only tally they would need midway through the opening session as Jaren Bellini’s 23rd of the campaign proved to be the eventual game-winner.

The T-Birds added one more late in the frame as Joey Miller collected his 13th overall with just eight seconds left in the frame, in what turned out to be the final goal of the night.

Ryckman and the stingy Thunderbirds defensive play did the rest keeping Elliot Lake at the bay the rest of the night as the home side kept their NOJHL-best total of only 74 goals allowed intact.

The shutout by Ryckman was his second in eight starts since joining the Soo just over a month ago.

Al Rogers stopped 24 of the 26 attempts he faced in defeat for the Wildcats.

With the NOJHL West title secured, the Thunderbirds can now set their sights on finishing first place overall in the 12-team NOJHL.

Any combination of points totalling five either picked up by the T-Birds or lost by either the Cochrane Crunch or Powassan Voodoos will give the defending league and Dudley-Hewitt Cup champions the regular season crown.

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