Considering the Rayside-Balfour Canadians were staring up at a 22-point gap between themselves (in second place) and the division-leading Soo Thunderbirds when the NOJHL regular season concluded at the beginning of March, returning to Chelmsford with a split following the first two games of their divisional final in Sault Ste. Marie is more than they could have hoped for.
The T-Birds looked the part of heavy favourites in game one, more or less controlling the contest from start to finish in posting a 4-1 victory. Lucas Theriault (1st - 8:54), Spencer Van Tiem (2nd - 12:47) and Noah Boman (3rd - 6:48) vaulted the Saulites to a 3-0 lead before Carson McMillan (Rayside) and Theriault, with his second, traded markers later in the third.
The Soo outshot the visitors 40-21, with Colin Ahern picking up the win in net for the Thunderbirds and David Bowen tagged with the loss.
The Canadians managed to keep things much closer in game two and that strategy paid dividends when rookie Giordano Biondi combined with fellow newcomers Joel Mongeon and Chase Stillman, deadlocking the series at 1-1 with a goal just 4:21 into overtime.
Also scoring for the winners in the 4-3 affair were Brett McGlade (2nd - 11:00), Chase Stillman (2nd - 16:11) and Evan Krassey (3rd - 11:36), with captain Kaidan McDonald (1st - 3:28), Matthew Barazin (2nd - 17:39) and Steven Bellini (3rd - 19:12) replying in a losing cause for the Thunderbirds.
Sault Ste Marie still got the better of the Rayside-Balfour lads in the shots on goal department (35-21), as the teams now make their way back to the Chelmsford Arena for games three (Wed., April 3rd - 7:05) and four (Thurs., April 4th - 7:05).
The winner of the best of seven affair will take on the team that emerges from the East Division final between the Hearst Lumberjacks and Powassan Voodoos, with the Lumberjacks up 2-0. The Canadians are looking to make a second consecutive appearance in the NOJHL final, falling to the Cochrane Crunch in six games one year ago.