The Soo Thunderbirds prepared for their playoff opener against Blind River with a 4-3 win over the North Bay Skyhawks to conclude the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season on Sunday night.
With the Manitoulin Wild scoring a huge 5-4 road win in Northern Michigan on Saturday night, the Wild overtook the Blind River Beavers for third spot in the Western Division. The Wild returned their top four scorers to lineup and rebound from a 10-0 loss to the Thunderbirds on Friday night.
The Thunderbirds will now meet Blind River and Manitoulin will play the Northern Michigan Black Bears in the best-of-seven division semi-final series.
In the Eastern Division semi-finals, regular season champion North Bay will face the Rayside Balfour Sabrecats while the Sudbury Northern Wolves meet the Abitibi Eskimos.
On Sunday in North Bay, Tom Vernelli scored the game winner 1:04 into overtime to give the Thunderbirds the victory.
North Bay had built a 2-0 lead in the first period with goals from Sylvain Houle and Josh Merson.
The Thunderbirds responded in the second period when Alex Butkus scored on the power play to put the locals on the board. Mike MacMillan tied the game at 2-2 with a goal with 12 seconds remaining in the period.
Jason Gauthier put the Skyhawks ahead 3-2 with 4:51 remaining in regulation time. Vernelli, who also added an assist in the game, setup his own game winner by scoring the tying goal with 25 seconds remaining in regulation time.
D.J. Jelitto recorded three assists while Jarrett Michaels recorded the win in goal by stopping 29 of 32 shots. The Thunderbirds managed only 20 shots on goal and were outshot 13-1 in the opening period.
The Thunderbirds finished the 48-game regular season with a 31-9-7-1 record for 70 points, good for second best in the league. North Bay led the league with a 34-7-4-3 record for 75 points.