As NOJHL champions, the Lumberjacks qualified for the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, a four-team tournament being hosted in Cochrane.
HEARST — Just two years after relocating their franchise, the Hearst Lumberjacks are the envy of the Junior ‘A’ Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The Lumberjacks were crowned NOJHL champions last Wednesday with a Game 7 victory over the top-seeded Soo Thunderbirds.
As NOJHL champions, the Lumberjacks qualified for the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, a four-team tournament being hosted in Cochrane. That tournament starts Tuesday and runs through May 4 to decide the Junior ‘A’ provincial champion. The teams include Hearst, Oakville (Ontario Junior Hockey League champion), Thunder Bay (Superior International Junior Hockey League champion) and fellow NOJHL combatant Cochrane (host).
The winner of the Dudley-Hewitt Cup advances to Brooks, Alta., to participate in the Junior ‘A’ national championship, known as the RBC Cup, the following week.
Hearst’s franchise has existed since 1988 and bounced from six previous locations. This league title was its first since 2012-13, when it was the North Bay Trappers.
As the winner of the East division with a 33-16-7 record, the Lumberjacks were poised to make a run at the championship. But there was plenty of drama to meet them along the way.
After bypassing the play-in round, they first met up with the Timmins Rock. Timmins took a 3-1 lead in the series, but the Lumberjacks battled back to win the final three games by a total margin of four goals.
Hearst swept the Powassan Voodoos in the ensuing round, but the Voodoos held a lead in three of the games and forced overtime in two of them.
The final series pitted the Lumberjacks against a dominant Thunderbirds group that went 44-11-1 in the regular season. This time, Hearst sprung out to a 3-1 series lead, only to see a push from the Thunderbirds that forced a seventh game back in Sault Ste. Marie.
In the decisive game, Hearst dug itself a two-goal deficit in the first period before storming back for a 6-3 win.
Hearst’s top offensive contributors in the playoffs were Max Johnson (12 goals and 25 points) and Bradley Golant (nine goals and 23 points). Goalie Nicholas Tallarico started all 18 games in net for the Lumberjacks, compiling a .910 save percentage and 2.59 goals against average in the process.
The Lumberjacks open their Dudley-Hewitt Cup action on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. against Oakville at the Tim Horton Events Centre in Cochrane.