By Matt Stefano
Sunday night marked a West Division Finals rematch as the Soo Thunderbirds took on the Elliot Lake Wildcats at the Essar Centre.
This was the first time these two clubs met since the T-Birds eliminated them in five games in the NOJHL West Division Finals last year.
Gage Stephney, who came over in a trade with the GOJHL’s St. Thomas Stars, led the way offensively for the T-Birds with a goal and and two assists in an 8-2 victory over the Elliot Lake Wildcats.
“It felt good to make my debut tonight,” said Stephney. “I didn’t get to sign last year, but I went down to St. Thomas and had an alright season. But I’m excited to be back here and the team is good like it always is and I’m excited to be part of it.”
Before entering his junior career in 2015-2016 with St. Thomas, the 16 year old played with the Soo Greyhounds Minor Midget AAA team in 2014-2015.
“All my coaches, especially in Minor Bantam was a big year in my development going on the ice all the time,” continued Stephney. “They always pushed us hard, but we just have to work hard on the ice and stuff will come. Good teams, all good players and playing with Mark Tassone my whole way up has been nice.”
Following his season with the Soo Greyhounds Minor Midget AAA team, the Sault native was then picked up by the Oshawa Generals in the 8th round (159th overall) during the 2015 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
“It was so nice when I got my name called,” concluded Stephney. “I was thinking about it all year from the get go, but I’m excited to play here and it was nice being down in Oshawa to play with OHLers at main camp. They really smartened me up, they are really fast, they are really big and strong, but right now I’m only focused on winning with the Birds.”
The T-Birds led 3-0 after the first period, getting a pair of goals by Zach Senecal and one by Nick Smith.
Mark Tassone’s goal just 1:35 into the second period made it 4-0 T-Birds, which spelled the end of Wildcats goaltender Justin Richer’s night, after he gave up 4 goals on 17 shots.
Wildcats goaltender Matt Kostiw would come in to replace Richer the rest of the night.
Gage Stephney would put the Soo up 5-0 at 5:51 from Turner Santin, before Ty Hannaford’s goal from David Elford at 19:40 cut the T-Birds lead to 5-1 after two.
Mark Tassone would get his second goal of the game just 36 seconds into the third from Gage Stephney and Keegan Stevenson to put the Soo up 6-1.
Nick Long’s power play goal for Elliot Lake at 2:54 from Liam Sweeney and Troy Button made it a 6-2 game.
Keenan Eddy’s goal at 6:04 from Turner Santin gave the Soo a 7-2 lead, before Matt Caruso’s first of the season and 99th career point made the score 8-2.
Kelly Quevillon and Justin Ryyppo chipped with two assists each on the night while Noah Solinger got on the scoresheet with one assist.
Wildcats goaltender Matt Kostiw gave up 4 goals on 22 shots after coming in to replace Justin Richer.
T-Birds goaltender Brandon Gordon made 13 stops for his 15th career win.
The T-Birds will be back in action on Friday, September 16th at 7:00 p.m. against the Soo Eagles at the Essar Centre.
Photo by Jim Egan