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Looking back at the Thunderbirds 20th regular season

By Matt Stefano

The Soo Thunderbirds have officially concluded their 20th regular season in the NOJHL, and are now getting set for the 2019 postseason.

But as we get set for postseason action, let’s take a look at the how the 2018-2019 regular season went for the Thunderbirds.

FAST START

The Thunderbirds began the 2018-2019 regular season with nine straight wins, which marked their longest winning streak to start a season since 2001-2002, when they opened up with thirteen consecutive victories.

REGULAR SEASON CHAMPIONS

The Thunderbirds finished the 2018-2019 regular season with a record of 44 wins, 11 losses and 1 shootout loss, good for 89 points and first in the NOJHL standings.

It was also the seventh time in franchise history that the Thunderbirds have captured the James Aspin Trophy (Regular season champions).

Their 44 wins this season, also marked the third most wins in a regular season in franchise history.

FROM 11 TO 40

After an 11 goal campaign one season ago, Thunderbirds forward and Niagara IceDogs 2016 twelfth round pick Lucas Theriault had a breakout year during the 2018-2019 season, scoring a league-leading 40 goals.

He also became the first Thunderbird to score 40 times in a regular season since Gavin Burbach did back in 2013-2014.

Following his impressive season, Theriault was awarded the Gilles Laperriere Trophy for the NOJHL’s Most Improved Player, becoming just the fourth Thunderbird to win that award, joining Dylan King (2007), Dan Vernelli (2008) and Nathan Hebert (2016).

TOP SCORER

He finished tied for first in league scoring with teammate Noah Boman with 76 points, but Lucas Theriault’s league leading 40 goals got him crowned NOJHL Scoring Champion.

Theriault became just the fourth Thunderbird to win the NOJHL scoring title, joining Ryan Corcoran (2001), Jeff Rainville (2003) and Gavin Burbach (2014).

GREAT PICK UP

Since coming over to the Thunderbirds from the GOJHL’s Niagara Falls Canucks prior to this season, forward Noah Boman has been a standout with his hometown Thunderbirds during the 2018-2019 regular season.

Boman, who was drafted by the Soo Greyhounds in the 1st round (18th overall) in the 2017 OHL U18 Priority Selection, finished tied for first in league scoring with teammate Lucas Theriault with 76 points, including a league leading 52 assists.

Boman also became the first Thunderbird to record 50 assists in a regular season since Micky Sartoretto did back in 2011-2012.

ON THE BLUELINE

After leading all Thunderbird blueliners in scoring last season with 29 points 55 games, second year defenceman Steven Bellini set career highs in goals (9), assists (37) and points (46) in 52 games with the Soo this season.

Not only did Bellini lead all Thunderbird blueliners in scoring this season, but he also finished tied with Soo Eagles defenceman Brendan Blair for first among  NOJHL blueliners in scoring.

The 18 year old was also the recipient of the NOJHL’s Best Defenceman Award, becoming the seventh Thunderbird to win that honour, joining Jeff Cochrane (2001), Ben Davey (2008), Drew Otto (2009), Bronson Kovacs (2010), Corey Jackson (2012) and Tyler Jones (2014).

On top of winning NOJHL’s Best Defenceman Award, Bellini was also the recipient of this year’s Best Overall Team Player Award.

The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native became the seventh Thunderbird to win the NOJHL’s Best Overall Team Player Award, joining Kyle Jones (2005), Jerry Petingalo (2010), Micky Sartoretto (2012), Darcy Casola (2013), Gavin Burbach (2014) and Matt Caruso (2017).

BETWEEN THE PIPES

They may have lost goaltenders Brandon Gordon and Eric Schuch from last season, but that didn’t stop the Thunderbirds from giving up the least goals against in the NOJHL during 2018-2019.

Netminders Colin Ahern and William Anderson, who both entered their first seasons with the Thunderbirds, shared the NOJHL Team Goaltending Award for giving up the fewest goals against during the regular season at 145.

This marked the second straight season that two Thunderbird goaltenders shared the NOJHL Team Goaltending Award, following Eric Schuch and Brandon Gordon (2017-2018).

MR. SECOND PERIOD

He may have put up a league leading 40 goals this season, but over half the goals he scored this season were notched in the middle frame.

This season, Thunderbirds forward Lucas Theriault had 22 second period goals, which set the new team record for most goals scored in a second period during a regular season.

The previous record was held by Fred Coccimiglio (2001) and Gavin Burbach (2014), who both had 18.

SETTING UP GAME WINNERS

He just entered his first season with the Thunderbirds this year, but he has already found himself in the team record book.

This season, Thunderbirds forward Noah Boman set up twelve game winning goals, which tied the Soo Thunderbirds record for most assists on game winning goals in a season, joining Anthony Miller (2014).

RECOGNIZED ACROSS THE COUNTRY

This season, the Thunderbirds finished eighth in the Canadian Junior Hockey League Rankings.

Not only did they finish at No. 8, but they were also the only Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League team to be ranked in the Final CJHL Top Twenty Weekly Rankings for the 2018-2019 regular season.

(Photo by Rod Aubertin/www.ssmphotos.com)

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