Sunday, February 25, 2007

Indians reclaim first place in NOJHL

After an absence of about 10 years, junior hockey returned downtown to the Pullar Stadium in Sault Ste. Marie Saturday night and the Soo Indians defeated the crossriver Soo Thunderbirds 4-3 to move back into first place in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League standings.

The Indians' victory, coupled with Sudbury's 6-4 loss at Blind River on Saturday, puts the Michigan Sooites one point ahead of the second-place Jr. Wolves. With both teams having four games to play in the regular season, the Indians have 58 points, one more than Sudbury.

Saturday's win for the Indians came 24 hours after they dropped a 4-3 road decision to the Manitoulin Islanders.

The Indians vacated their Big Bear Arena home to play Saturday's game at the Pullar. Despite going head to head with the Lake Superior State Lakers, who were closing out their Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season at Taffy Abel Arena, the Indians drew a season-high crowd of 334.

The Indians have averaged 183 fans per game at the Big Bear this season.

"Considering that we were playing the same night as the Lakers, the fact that we drew our largest crowd of the season says a lot about playing at the Pullar," Indians' head coach Kevin Cain said evenly.

Cain paid tribute to his players for the hard-fought win, saying the adjustment from the Olympic-size ice surface of the Big Bear to the smaller confines of the Pullar Stadium "was not easy. This is a team that was built for the bigger ice surface. But our guys sucked it up and played a very solid game."

Captain Isaac Viau scored a goal and added an assist for the Indians in being named the game's first star. Sean Farley, with his 30th goal of the season, Scott Pulak and Ky Moje also scored for the Indians in support of goalie Elliott Hogue, who made 23 saves.

Before the game, Viau was presented with the Carmen Provenzano Memorial Cup, emblematic of the Indians taking their regular-season series from the Thunderbirds six games to two.

Friday night in Manitoulin, the Indians scored two goals in the final 90 seconds of the game to close to within one and thought they had tied the game 4-4 when Viau put the puck in the net at the buzzer. But the linesman waved off the apparent goal and the Indians rode back home empty.

With a record of 28-14-2, the Indians play two road games this coming weekend, visiting Abitibi on Saturday and playing at North Bay on Sunday.

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