Rotiroti leads Thunderbirds to 11th straight victory

By Matt Stefano

The top team in the NOJHL continues to roll!

After picking up a 6-1 victory over the Cochrane Crunch back on Friday night in Sault, Ontario, and moving into sole possession of first place in the NOJHL standings, the Soo Thunderbirds picked up another win on Tuesday night in Sault, Michigan as they defeated the Soo Eagles by a score of 5-2 at Pullar Stadium.

The Thunderbirds, who entered Tuesday night’s game on a 10-game winning streak, also extended their winning streak to 11 straight games.

“They (Eagles) didn’t make it easy on us,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett. “They came out hard and outplayed us early on, but Noah Zeppa kept us in it early and then cemented the lead late in the game.”

Forward Alfred Rotiroti led the way offensively for the Thunderbirds on Tuesday night as he scored once and set up another, good for his second multi-point game of the season.

The Chicago, Illinois native also opened the scoring with his 8th goal of the season 10:56 into the first period from Dharan Cap and Kolby Fellinger, which gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead.

“Al (Rotiroti) is starting to find his place back in the lineup after coming off his suspension and we’re hoping he can keep it rolling,” Jarrett said.

Rotiroti, who had a goal and an assist for the Thunderbirds on Tuesday night, was also named first star of the game.

“It felt great to be named first star of the game, but more importantly, our team gave a great effort for all three periods which ultimately contributed to our win tonight,” Rotiroti said. “I’m also happy to be back in the lineup and help our team continue to prevail.”

With the game tied 1-1 after twenty minutes of play, it would then be Thunderbirds rookie forward Samuel Lake getting his 10th goal of the season at the 8:16 mark of the second from Russell Oldham and Zane Burleigh, which put the Thunderbirds ahead 2-1.

Lake, who scored his 10th goal of the season, also became the 8th player of the Soo Thunderbirds roster to hit the 10-goal plateau this season.

“Getting my 10th goal was a great feeling, but it was even better to put us up 2-1 in the game,” Lake said. “I think it helped by putting us up by one and firing the boys up to go get another one.”

With the Thunderbirds leading 2-1 with under three minutes to go in the second, it would then be Thunderbirds leading goal-scorer Michael Chaffay getting his team-leading 20th goal of the season at 17:06 from Cooper Foster, which gave the Thunderbirds a two-goal lead.

Chaffay, who scored his team-leading 20th goal on Tuesday, was also coming off a two-goal performance back on Friday night against Cochrane.

“Chaff has been in the right place at the right time and he’s getting the puck a lot,” Jarrett said. “Credit to Chaff for being able to capitalize on those opportunities over these last couple games.”

“It felt great to get my 20th goal tonight,” Chaffay said. “I was able to get to the right spot and I got a great pass and it felt great to help us get our 11th straight victory.”

With the Thunderbirds up 3-1 after forty minutes of play, the Eagles would then get back on the board just 3:28 into the third, courtesy of Charlie Salem’s 3rd goal of the season from Brian Fiddes and Jacob Swiatek, which cut the Thunderbirds lead to 3-2.

Then, just 32 seconds after Salem’s goal, it would then be Thunderbirds rookie forward Kenny Belanger Jr. getting his 11th goal of the season from Alfred Rotiroti, which put the Thunderbirds back ahead by two goals.

Belanger Jr. who scored his 11th goal of the season, also extended his point-scoring streak to two games.

Then, with just 49 ticks to go in the third period, it would then be Thunderbirds rookie forward Kelsey Ouellet getting his 14th goal of the season into an empty net, making the score 5-2 for the Thunderbirds.

Defenceman Dylan Bachalo had the other goal (power play) for the Eagles at the 14:22 mark of the first from Zach Briskey, which at that time made the score 1-1.

Eagles netminder Gabe Rosek gave up 4 goals on 35 shots in the loss while Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Zeppa made 29 saves for his 7th straight victory.

Zeppa, who picked up his 7th straight victory on Tuesday night, also became the first Thunderbird goaltender to record 7 straight wins since Brandon Gordon did back in the 2017-2018 season.

“Brandon Gordon is someone I looked up to and he was obviously one of the best goaltenders to play for the Thunderbirds organization,” Zeppa said. “I believe as a group, we are all excited to play and everyone is feeding off the energy.”

The Thunderbirds, who have now picked up their 11th straight victory, will be back in action on Friday night when they visit Hearst to take on the Hearst Lumberjacks.

Puck drop for that game is set for 7:00 p.m. at Claude Larose Arena.

“Hearst is a tough barn to play in and clearly is a respected organization,” Zeppa said. “If we keep to our systems and structure, it will be a great contest Friday.”

The Thunderbirds, who are heading into Friday’s game on an 11-game winning streak, will be taking on a Lumberjacks team who are winners of 12 straight.

“I have the utmost confidence in our team no matter who we are facing,” Zeppa said.


During Tuesday night’s game in Sault, Michigan, Thunderbirds rookie forward Kelsey Ouellet scored his 14th goal of the season into an empty net, which turned out to be his second empty net goal of the season.

Ouellet, who scored his second empty net goal of the season, now leads the Thunderbirds this season in empty net goals.


The last rookie on the Thunderbirds to score two empty net goals in a regular season was Camaryn Baber back in 2017-2018.

Baber, who spent one season with the Thunderbirds back in 2017-2018, is now a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.

(Photo of Thunderbirds forward Alfred Rotiroti credit to Bob Davies)


WordPress Image Lightbox Plugin