FORT FRANCES, Ont. – A Matt Pinder goal four minutes into the third period proved to be the game-winner as the Soo Thunderbirds (NOJHL) edged the Fort Frances Lakers (SIJHL) 3-2 Saturday in the title game of the Dudley Hewitt Cup Central Canada Jr. A Championship at Ice for Kids Arena.
With the victory, Sault Ste. Marie now advances to the RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A Championship May 9-17 in Portage la Prairie, Man.
A tight-checking opening 20 minutes saw the two sides go at each other at a quick pace with neither side managing to get on the board.
Trading chances in the middle session, it was the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League title holders from Sault Ste. Marie that got on the board first as Eric Hillock worked the puck to Nicolas Tassone, who fired one from the end boards that went right to the top corner at 10:45 of the frame.
Going at a back and forth furious pace the home side brought the capacity crowd of 1,357 to their feet as Wyatt Cota drove hard to the front of the net and chipped the puck over a sprawled Mario Culina to knot the affair at 1-1.
A wild finish to the stanza saw the T-Birds go back in front as Tassone tapped in his second of the night from in close following a goal mouth scramble at 18:14.
The Lakers answered that 43 seconds later coming back to tie it once again with Cota’s wrist shot from the right side being knocked in by a pinching Fort Frances defenceman Nick Minerva.
Pinder gave the Soo the lead again for good in the final frame wiring home the game-winner from the right face-off dot over the shoulder of Dushenko in what would be the final tally of the five-day event.
The two sides traded chances the rest of the way, but could not beat either of the goaltenders before time expired.
Shots on goal in the contest favoured the Thunderbirds 44-31.
Player of the game honours went to Tassone and Cota.
Dudley-Hewitt Cup tournament awards saw Cota, who led all skaters in overall points, was named most valuable player and the leading scorer while Headrick was selected the most sportsmanlike player.