Playoff action begins tonight for the Thunderbirds

By Matt Stefano

Playoff hockey is finally back and it all starts tonight!

Tonight your Soo Thunderbirds will be in action for their first game of postseason play as they will take on the Blind River Beavers in game 1 of the NOJHL’s West Division semifinal series, beginning at 7:00 p.m. at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

The Thunderbirds, who finished the regular season in first place in the NOJHL standings with 81 points, have gotten a bye into the semifinal series and will take on a Beavers team who finished No. 4 in the NOJHL’s West Division standings.

The Beavers, who are the No. 4 seed team in the NOJHL’s West Division, eliminated the No. 5 seed Elliot Lake Red Wings two-games-to-one in the NOJHL’s West Division best-of-three qualifier series.

Tonight’s game will also be the Thunderbirds first playoff game in 1079 days, due to the fact that there was no playoff action in the last two seasons due to COVID-19.


In eight meetings against the Beavers during the regular season, the Thunderbirds have defeated them 5 times and have lost to them 3 times, including once in a shootout.

The Birds have also outscored the Beavers 31-22 overall.


After leading the Thunderbirds in scoring during the regular season with 60 points, Thunderbirds rookie forward Cooper Foster ended up winning two league awards this year, including the NOJHL’s Best Overall Team Player and the NOJHL’s MVP.

Foster, who is the youngest player on this year’s Soo Thunderbirds roster, was also named to the NOJHL’s 2022 First All-Star Team.


Entering tonight’s game, Blind River Beavers forward Caleb Minns is currently leading the Beavers in scoring this postseason with 4 points (2 goals and 2 assists) in 4 games.

Minns, who is a 2002-birth-year forward also led the Beavers in scoring during the regular season with 47 points, including 20 goals and 27 assists.


This season, Thunderbirds captain Brock Santa Maria finished third in team scoring with 42 points in 41 games.

His 42 points this season also gave him a career-high for most points in a single-season.

Santa Maria, who is in his third-full season with the Thunderbirds, and his first as team captain, also set career-highs this season in goals with 13 and assists with 29.

The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native also has previous playoff experience in the NOJHL as he suited up for 9 games as an affiliate player with the Soo Thunderbirds during the 2019 postseason.


When it came to killing off penalties during the regular season, the Soo Thunderbirds have had the most success out of any team in the NOJHL.

The Thunderbirds ended the regular season with the best penalty kill in the entire NOJHL, which operated at 88.1%.


During the regular season, the Soo Thunderbirds received some great goaltending from both their goaltenders, including Noah Metivier and Noah Zeppa.

Metivier, who is an 18-year-old rookie, led all NOJHL rookie goaltenders in wins during the regular season with 20 and finished off with the league’s best save percentage (.922%) along with the league’s lowest goals against average (1.88).

The 18-year-old rookie was also the recipient of the Wayne Chase Memorial Award for ending the regular season for the lowest goals against average among all NOJHL goaltenders.

Zeppa, who signed with the Thunderbirds as a free agent during the 2021 offseason, finished the regular season with 15 wins, 1 loss and 1 shootout loss and had the second lowest goals against average (2.07) among all NOJHL goaltenders.

The 19-year-old also had a perfect 10-0 record between the pipes during the year 2022.

Metiver and Zeppa, who are both in their first seasons with the Thunderbirds, also shared this year’s NOJHL Team Goaltending Award (Fewest Goals Allowed).


This season, Thunderbirds rookie defenceman and Soo Greyhounds prospect Andrew “Gibby” Gibson was the top scoring defenceman in the entire NOJHL.

Gibson, who finished the season as the top scoring defenceman in the NOJHL, led all NOJHL blueliners in points (50), goals (21), game winning goals (5) and power play tallies (9).

This season, Gibson was also named the NOJHL’s Best Defenceman, along with being named to the NOJHL’s First All-Star Team.

The 2005-birth-year blueliner also holds the Thunderbirds record for most goals in a season by a Thunderbird defenceman.


Looking at accomplishments off the ice now, it was announced yesterday that Thunderbirds team trainer and equipment manager Dom Buonomo has been named to the NOJHL’s 2022 First All-Star Team.

Buonomo, who is in his third season with the Thunderbirds, also became the first team trainer and equipment manager to be named to the NOJHL’s First All-Star Team since Billy Syms did back in 2007.

(Photo credit to Bob Davies)

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