The Midget "A" NOHA Playdowns in Porcupine were expected to shine as one of the more competitive divisions in the north, and the grouping did not disapoint last weekend.
With the Rayside Balfour Tigers, Valley East Rebels and Espanola Eagles all fully capable of beating each other on any given evening, and the Schumacher Cubs thrown in for good measure, hockey fans in the Timmins area were treated to some outstanding hockey.
Rayside looked strong through round robin play, posting wins over the Porcupine Gold Kings (6-4), New Liskeard Lions (5-1) and Hearst HLK (5-1), setting up a semi-final classic with their long-time rivals from Valley East.
The Rebels had swept a pair of games from Espanola (7-3 and 7-1), but had also lost twice to Schumacher (6-3 and 4-3) as they prepared to face the Tigers.
After Darcy Haines opened the scoring with the only goal of the opening period for Valley East, Rayside would fight back, receiving second period tallies from both Ben Vincent and Alex Leduc and securing a 2-1 lead.
Given the long history between these two locals team, it was only fitting that the contest would require overtime as Jordan Piette deadlocked the game at 2-2, scoring with 2:35 remaining in regulation time.
Goaltenders Cody Hall (Rayside) and Justin Hebert (Valley East), already at their absolute best through much of the encounter, kept fans on both sides right on the edge of their seats with a number of big saves in overtime.
With 1:25 remaining in the second overtime period, Jordan Deppisch wired a slap shot from the top of the circle, vaulting the Tigers to the NOHA Championship game. A second straight nail-biter would await Rayside fans as Eric Martineau broke a 4-4 tie, scoring on a third period breakaway to give Schumacher a 5-4 win.
The Cubs had trimmed New Liskeard 4-3 in the semi-finals, earning their berth in the Gold medal encounter. Deppisch, Aidan Byrne, Jake Punkari and Taran Lemery scored for Rayside in the loss.
The Tigers will now try and regroup as they face the Sudbury Anmar Minor Midget Wolves in the Nickel District Hockey League Midget "A" Division final, with the series kicking off Wednesday night in Azilda at 8:00 p.m.
Meanwhile, Schumacher will travel to Stouffville from April 8th to 10th for the OHF (Ontario Hockey Federation) Midget "A" Championships, with entries representing the Credit Valley Wolves (GTHL), Amherstburg Stars (OMHA) and host Whitchurch-Stouffville already confirmed.