By Matt Stefano
Another regular season has concluded for the NOJHL’s Soo Thunderbirds and has once again been another successful one.
The T-Birds ended their 2016-2017 regular season Sunday afternoon at the Essar Centre, defeating the Rayside Balfour Canadians 7-0.
“It ended really well,” said T-Birds head coach and general manager Jordan Smith. “Anytime you can go on a winning streak heading into the playoffs, it’s a real positive.”
The Soo extended their winning streak to twelve and their unbeaten streak to sixteen.
“The credit goes to the players,” continued Smith. “They’ve showed willingness to get better and to buy into the system. We can take a nice deep breath now that the majority of our team is healthy. We have two weeks now to prepare for hopefully a long playoff run.”
With the T-Birds leading 4-0 midway through the second, Dougie Newhouse, who got the start in goal, making 13 saves, had been replaced in net by Brandon Gordon, who stopped 7 shots the rest of the way.
“We asked the goalies after the game last night if they wanted a split,” said Smith. “We wanted to get Dougie a few more minutes to move up in the league standings. By our calculations I think our goalies are going to be in the top five for goalie statistics. It was a group effort by the goaltenders today, but obviously an outstanding one.”
Braden Caruso, who suited up for just his ninth game of the season with the T-Birds, scored his first career NOJHL goal at the 5:44 mark of the second period, which made it 3-0 for the T-Birds.
“He’s been great for us,” concluded Smith. “He had a good year with the midgets and he’s been able to step in and fill a spot for us, especially with Reeder (Jake Reed) out for a bit. We are happy for the kid. Probably the first of many and congratulations to him.”
Forward Gage Stephney scored his second straight game winning goal Sunday afternoon and set up three others in the T-Birds victory.
“It’s awesome,” said Stephney. “Anytime you put the puck in the net it feels good, but I just like winning.”
The T-Birds ended their 2016-2017 regular season, with a record of 43-11-1-1, good for 88 points and second overall in the NOJHL standings.
“Games like this don’t really mean much in the standings,” concluded Stephney. “We’re not moving up or down, but it’s important to stay on the right track and go into the playoffs on a winning note and that’s exactly what we did today.”
Matt Caruso (shorthanded), Sean Emmerson, Greg Smith, Keegan Stevenson and Kaidan McDonald had the other goals for the T-Birds.
Defenceman Wyatt Villalta set up two goals while Zach Senecal and Ryan Mulligan had one assist each.
Mulligan not to mention, also played in his 100th career game Sunday afternoon.
Canadians goalie Simon Wood gave up 7 goals on 35 shots in the loss.
(Photo credit to Rod Aubertin ssmphotos.com)