Game Preview: Thunderbirds play their first game of 2021 against the Beavers

By Matt Stefano

It’s been over two months since we last saw the Soo Thunderbirds on the ice, but tonight they will be back in action for the first time since December 20, 2020.

The Soo Thunderbirds will return to the ice tonight for their first game of the year 2021 as they will take on the Blind River Beavers at 7:00 p.m. at the John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

The Thunderbirds enter tonight’s game with a record of 4 wins, 3 losses and 1 shootout loss while the Beavers come in with a record of 5 wins, 3 losses and 1 shootout loss.


The last time these two clubs met was back on November 29, 2020, when the Thunderbirds defeated the Beavers by a score of 5-3 at the Blind River Community Centre in Blind River.

Forwards Cooper Smyl and Caleb Wood led the way offensively for the Thunderbirds with a goal and two assists each while goaltender Alex Bugeja made 28 saves for the victory.


Sixteen-year old defenceman Connor Toms enters tonight’s game as the Thunderbirds top scorer with 9 points in 8 games.

Toms is also the only blueliner and rookie in the NOJHL who is currently leading a team in scoring.


On Januray 31, the Blind River Beavers have traded their captain and third-year blueliner Nathan Balkwill to the PCJHL’s Penetang Kings.

In 109 career regular season games with the Beavers, Balkwill scored 9 times and set a pair of team records, including most career assists by a defenceman with 61 and most career penalty minutes by a defenceman with 256.

He also holds a few single season records for the Beavers, including most assists (44), points (50) and penalty minutes (125) all among Beaver defencemen.


Entering tonight’s game, the Soo Thunderbirds have only given up 24 goals against, which is the least in the NOJHL’s West Division.


On February 16, the Blind River Beavers acquired a pair of twenty-year old forwards from the Leamington Flyers, including Joshua Maine and Thomas Michaud.

Maine, who split time last season with the CCHL’s Pembroke Lumber Kings and the GOJHL’s Leamington Flyers, scored once and set up 11 others in 45 games and had 109 penalty minutes.

He was also drafted by the Omaha Lancers in the 13th round (201st overall) in the 2016 USHL Entry Draft.

Michaud, meanwhile, led the Leamington Flyers in goals last season with 26 and set up 18 others in 44 games.


Thunderbirds goaltender Alex Bugeja is the latest member of the club to celebrate a birthday.

The West Vancouver, British Columbia native turned 20 years old yesterday on February 23.

Bugeja was also named the NOJHL’s Goaltender of the Month for December.


The Beavers all-time scoring leader is back!

But we don’t mean he’s back on the ice, we mean he’s now behind the bench.

During the month of December, the Blind River Beavers have hired their former captain and all-time scoring leader Caleb Serre as an assistant coach.

The twenty-two-year-old played four seasons with his hometown Beavers from 2016-2020, where he set many franchise records, including most career points (269), most career goals (117), most career assists (152) and most career games played (210).

He also holds many single season records with the Beavers, including most goals (47), most assists (66), most points (113), most power play goals (17), most opening goals of a game (9) and most insurance goals of a game (6).

In his graduating year with the Beavers in 2019-2020, Serre also set a pair of single game records for the team, including most assists in a game with 6 and most points in a game with 7.

The Blind River, Ontario native also holds the Beavers longest consecutive goal scoring streak record at 9 games and has the team record for most career playoff games played with 32.

(Photo credit to Bob Davies)

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