SUDBURY, Ont. – The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League East Division semifinal series between the Hearst Lumberjacks and the Powassan Voodoos begins Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Claude Larose Recreation Centre.
Here’s a look at what should be a very tightly-contested best-of-seven affair:
QUOTABLE: “First of all, the Lumberjacks are a very well-built team,” admitted Powassan head coach Lafleur, himself a Hearst native, and a two-time NOJHL playoff champion behind the bench, with both the Lumberjacks (2019) and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (2014).
“They have great fans and they love their hockey there,” added Lafleur prior to Thursday’s Game 1. “We just have to make sure the game is played between the boards and we don’t get caught up with the emotions of the crowd.”
Expecting a hard-fought, close-matched series, Voodoos’ goaltender Alex Bugeja offered: “When you look at our season series, we are fairly evenly matched and it was kind of a goal here and a goal there against them. I feel we can really come out on top if we get a good start.”
Hearst: 35-11-2-0 (2nd NOJHL East/3rd overall)
Powassan: 30-11-6-1 (3rd NOJHL East/5th overall)
HEAD-TO-HEAD: If the regular season results between the two sides is any indication, the Hearst – Powassan series should be a dandy.
The clubs met six times during the campaign and each get together was decided by just one goal, including four in overtime.
In those match-ups, the Lumberjacks came away victorious on four occasions and outscored the Voodoos 19-16 in the process.
Sept. 25: @ Hearst (4-3 Voodoos)
Oct. 1: @ Powassan (3-2 Lumberjacks – OT)
Oct. 23: @ Hearst (3-2 Lumberjacks – OT)
Nov. 12: @ Powassan (4-3 Lumberjacks – OT)
Dec. 4: @ Hearst (5-4 Lumberjacks – OT)
Dec. 10: @ Powassan (2-1 Voodoos)
NOJHL East Division semifinal
Hearst Lumberjacks vs. Powassan Voodoos
Game 1: Thursday, April 7 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)
Game 2: Friday, April 8 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)
Game 3: Sunday, April 10 @ Powassan 7 p.m. (Powassan Sportsplex)
Game 4: Monday, April 11 @ Powassan 7 p.m. (Powassan Sportsplex)
Game 5*: Wednesday, April 13 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)
Game 6*: Friday, April 15 @ Powassan 7 p.m. (Powassan Sportsplex)
Game 7*: Sunday, April 17 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)
THE LUMBERJACKS: Featuring a high-octane offense, Hearst boasted three players who finished in the Top 10 in league scoring.
Led by the NOJHL’s leading goal scorer and point-getter Robbie Rutledge, he paced all skaters with 39 tallies and 67 points.
Fourth in league offensive numbers was Zachary Demers who notched a dozen markers while doing out a NOJHL-best 52 assists.
Then there was 58-point man Raphael Lajeunesse, who ended sixth in scoring while scoring 22 times and helping set-up 36 others.
Rutledge and Lajeunesse also supplied five game-winning goals apiece.
Defensive, Hearst boasts a solid tandem in Jaden Raad and Dylan Ford.
Combining for 82 points between them, the duo also paired up to collect 18 goals as well.
This group of five helped the Lumberjacks boast the power play rate in the NOJHL this season at 25%.
In net, Hearst also has a solid pair, who played well between the pipes.
Veteran Liam Oxner won each of his last three appearances, allowing only one puck to get by him, in 185 minutes of work.
He also went 9-1-0-0 in his past 10 decisions with Hearst, as part of his 46 career NOJHL victories with the Lumberjacks.
Meanwhile rookie netminder Matteo Gennaro went 14-4-2-0 in his first season in the league with a 2.66 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
THE VOODOOS: Boasting a rookie-laden line-up, Powassan featured seven skaters who accumulated 30, or more, points during the campaign.
Six of those were first-year players in the league with Rodion Tatarenko leading the Voodoos with 41 points, including 20 tallies.
Next on the squad was Cameron Lemcke (12g-24a-36pts) with Chase MacQueen-Spence (12g-23a-35pts) and Jackson Buffam (10g-25a-35pts) right behind him.
Meanwhile Alexander Bradshaw’s 22 goals, led the team in that department.
Defensively, the Powassan pair of Caleb Van de Ven and Alex Little bring quality at both ends of the ice for the Voodoos.
Both blueliners had nine markers each with Van de Ven having 23 helpers to his credit, while Little had 19.
In net, Alex Bugeja won 18 games for Powassan this season as the veteran goalkeeper had the fourth-most wins in league play while having the fifth-highest minute totals at 1,861.
UP NEXT: The winner of this series will take on either the Timmins Rock or French River Rapids in the best-of-seven East Division Final.
WHERE TO WATCH: All NOJHL playoff games can be viewed online via HockeyTV.com.
Photo credit: Marc-André Longval