Rivercity earns semifinal berth

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One Sault team stayed alive while another called it a season in Great North Midget League playoff action on the weekend.

The Rivercity Motorsports Major Midget Thunderbirds defeated the New Liskeard Cubs 6-3 on Sunday in New Liskeard to win their best-of-three, first-round series 2-1.

With the victory, the T-Birds advance to meet the first-place — and undefeated – North Bay Major Midget Trappers in a best-of-five semifinal.

The series will start this weekend in North Bay.

“We had a short bench all weekend due to injuries and league suspensions, but we played really well today (Sunday),” said Rivercity head coach Alex Cruise, whose team dropped a 3-1 decision to the Cubs on Saturday.

The series began last Thursday in the Sault with the T-Birds winning 4-2.

Cole Delarosbil, Michael Chaffay, Jacob Sewell-Addison, Dylan Forsyth and Jordan Ritchie had a goal and an assist each for the winners. Nick Niro had the other goal and Noah Zeppa was between the pipes.

Cruise spoke of how his team, which dressed just seven forwards and four defencemen, employed a trap on Sunday “to try to save our legs. Everybody bought in and executed really well. It was big for our guys to win this series.”

That’s in part due to the fact the major midgets started the season very slowly.

“From the adversity we faced, to win in the first round in the playoffs shows our kids the importance of hard work,” the coach added.

As for facing the 36-0-0-0 (wins, losses, overtime losses, shootout losses) power of the Trappers, Cruise spoke of how anything is possible in the playoffs.

On Saturday, Brock Santa Maria had the lone goal in defeat.

Last Thursday, Delarosbil and Cole Ambeault had a goal and an assist each for the winners. Chaffay and Santa Maria rounded out the scoring while Niro contributed a pair of assists.

Zeppa was in goal for both of those games and all three in the series.

Meantime, in Sudbury the Soo Minor Midget Thunderbirds lost their semifinal 3-2 to Thunder Bay on Sunday while playing in the GNML Minor Midget Playoffs.

The Sudbury Wolves Minor Midgets defeated Thunder Bay 4-2 in the title game.

With the Soo trailing 3-1, Nathan Rowe scored with 12 seconds left in regulation.

“And we had an unbelievable chance to tie the game with three seconds to go and their goalie made a great save,” said T-Birds head coach Jamie Henderson. “We just couldn’t capitalize. We just don’t have the pure goalscorers.”

The Thunderbirds began play on Friday with a 7-0 win over North Bay. Evan Nicholls posted the shutout. On Saturday, Thunder Bay handed the Soo a 5-2 setback and Sudbury defeated the T-Birds 10-3.

Andy Couture was between the pipes in both of those games.

The Soo’s scoring details from the first three games of the tournament were not made available.

Star defenceman Jack Matier, expected to go early in this spring’s Ontario Hockey League draft, suffered an upper body injury early in Game 1 and was lost to the T-Birds for the rest of the weekend.

The injury is not believed to be serious.

“Tyler Dunbar stepped up on defence with Jack hurt, but that injury dropped us to three defencemen,” said Henderson, who wound up using multiple forwards on the blue-line the rest of the tournament. “That was a huge loss for us.”

In the semifinal, Ethan Novello had the other Soo goal and Nicholls was between the pipes.

“Our guys battled hard right to the end of every game,” said Henderson, who spoke of how eight players on his roster competed at the house league level last season. “Nicholls played really well on Sunday and I’m super proud of everyone for stepping up.”