BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
The Sudbury Northern Wolves blew a two-goal, third period lead but hung on to score a 5-5 tie with the visiting Soo Thunderbirds in NOJHL action Wednesday night.
The Thunderbirds entered the game as the highest scoring team in the NOJHL, with 39 goals in seven contests.
The Northern Wolves were able to match the Soo's firepower goal for goal when it all came to an end. The tie pushed the Northern Wolves into first place in the Eastern Division with nine points, one over their Hwy. 17 rival, the North Bay Skyhawks.
The tie also kept the Thunderbirds as the only unbeaten team in the league.
The Northern Wolves wasted no time getting on the board, when forward Corey McGillis picked up the puck in the slot and shovelled it past the Thunderbird's goalie, Frank Carlucci just 42 seconds into the first period.
The Thunderbirds battled back and tied the game, when forward Bryan Pearse flew in on the rush and snapped a hard wrist shot past Northern Wolves goalie Kevin Beech at 8:40.
The Northern Wolves blew the game wide open in the second period.
Northern Wolves forward, Christian Cundari accepted a pass in the slot at full speed and made a wonderful move to his backhand and he roofed it past a sprawling Carlucci at 6:47.
Less than a minute later the Northern Wolves struck again, when Andrew Hawes chipped a pass from Eric Bazinet past Carlucci to make it 3-1 at 7:43.
The Northern Wolves looked like they were in control and they were sniffing around the Thunderbirds' net looking for more goals, but the Thunderbirds had other plans.
The Soo jumped right back into the game, when Chez Gioia charged the Northern Wolves' net hard and scored on a wrap around goal to cut the lead to 3-2 at 12:01.
The Soo started the third period on the powerplay and they wasted no time making the Northern Wolves pay dearly.
The Soo's Tom Vernelli tipped in a big blast from the point just 29 seconds into the third to nod the game at 3-3.
The Northern Wolves went on the attack soon afterwards, when McGillis picked up his own rebound in the slot with his long reach and fired home the puck past Carlucci to make it 4-3 at 8:18.
Just over a minute later, Sudbury took a two-goal lead when Jeffrey Christison broke in on a partial break away and wired a powerful wrist shot past Carlucci's glove to make it 5-3.
As the third period wound down, the Thunderbirds' character and resolve came through.
With under five minutes to play, Thunderbirds' D.J. Jelitto stepped over the blue line and fired a rocket past Beech's blocker side to make it 5-4 at 12:25.
With 1;11 to go in the game, the Soo yanked their goalie in a last ditch effort to tie the game. The gamble paid off when, Tom Vernelli jammed home a loose puck in a wild goal mouth scramble to tie the game at five a piece.
Both teams played hard in the extra frame, but skated away tied.
For Northern Wolves head coach, Jason Stos, the game was a learning experience for his club.
"There was a time when we were up by two goals, we could have wrapped the game up, but we sat back and it stung us," said Stos. "This game was a learning experience because the game is never over until the last buzzer."
McGillis echoed his coach's comments.
"We played solid for the first two periods, but then we let down," said McGillis. "We have to play hard defensive hockey all the time."
Soo head coach, Jim Capy was pleased with his team's heart and desire.
"We came here minus our starting goaltender and three of our toughest players. To come in here and get a point against a very good team makes us happy," said Capy. "We built some character tonight."
Soo's Vernelli also liked his team's attitude.
"We battled back two times and showed a lot of character, especially in the last minute with our goalie pulled," said Vernelli. "It was a good team effort and we're staring to come together as a team."
-Northern Wolves goalie Beech finished the game with 37 saves
-Soo's goalie Carlucci stopped 32 shots fired his way
-Northern Wolves' McGillis finished the game with two goals and one assist and was named the first star