By Matt Stefano
The Soo Thunderbirds headed into Saturday night ranked as the top team in the nation for the second straight week as they took on the Dudley Hewitt Cup host team Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, who came in as the 19th ranked team in this week’s Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top 20 rankings.
The Soo would jump out to a 3-0 lead after the first period. Jaren Bellini, who entered Saturday night’s game with 63 career goals, putting him 6th on the Soo Thunderbirds all time goals list, put the T-Birds up 1-0 at 6:40 into the first from Khadyn Butterfly and Brandon Grandinetti. A power play goal by Nathan Hebert at 10:01 put the Soo up 2-0 from Brett Jeffries and Matt Busby. Darian Pilon gave the T-Birds a 3-0 lead with 7 minutes to go in the first from Aiden Salerno and Brett Jeffries.
Matt Caruso gave the T-Birds a 4-0 lead just 1:40 into the second from Nathan Hebert and Jaren Bellini, which also spelled the end of Gold Miners goalie Victor-Oliver Courchesne’s night, after giving up 4 goals on 19 shots. Tyler Mazzocato, who came in to replace him the rest of the way, stopped all 18 shots directed at him.
The Gold Miners would get two goals by Logan Fredericks just 9 seconds apart in the second period, but the T-Birds would go on to a 4-2 victory over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners. Brayden Stortz had a pair of assists for the Gold Miners while Alexander Hester assisted on one.
T-Birds goalie Connor Ryckman made 14 saves for the victory.
“I thought we came out strong,” said T-Birds captain Brett Jeffries, who had two assists on Saturday night. “We had a good first period and then they had a little bit of a push back in the second. But we didn’t break and it was a good effort by us tonight.”
With the victory, the T-Birds have won the regular season series against Kirkland Lake, winning them three times and losing once in overtime.
“Every game matters,” concluded Jeffries. “We’re not thinking about the rankings or anything like that, we just want to go out there and get the job done.”
The Soo is back in action on Wednesday, February 3rd at 7:00 p.m. against the Blind River Beavers from the Essar Centre.