By Matt Stefano
After dropping an 8-4 decision to the Elliot Lake Red Wings back on Tuesday night in Elliot Lake, the Soo Thunderbirds were back on John Rhodes ice on Friday night for their final home game of September as they took on the French River Rapids, who made their first and only visit to the Soo this season.
Friday night’s game also saw a pair of new faces on the ice for the Thunderbirds, as newly signed defenceman James Kearney was making his home debut with the club while newly signed forward Anton Petrovskiy was making his NOJHL debut.
The Thunderbirds, who entered Friday night’s game with 1 win and 2 losses, improved their record to .500 as they defeated the French River Rapids by a score of 3-1 at the John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.
The Rapids, who entered Friday night’s game with 0 wins and 2 losses, ended up falling to 0 wins and 3 losses for the first time since the 2018-2019 season.
“I liked our effort right from the start and every aspect of it,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett. “I thought our focus before the game was fantastic. Our start was great and we just kept it rolling all game long. The attitude on the bench was positive, everybody was encouraging each other and the energy level was great.”
After going goalless in his last 62 games played (Counting playoffs and Centennial Cup games), Thunderbirds third-year forward Ethan Novello ended up finding the back of the net just 1:33 into the first period from Lucas Whitehead and Mitchell Daines, which put his club up by an early 1-0 score.
Novello, who scored his first goal of the season, found the back of the net for the first time since November 21, 2020.
“It’s been coming for Novello for a while and when you think back to last season, his play has really picked up since then and he’s had a great start for us this year,” Jarrett said. “We talked about a few things over the summer about the ways he can get better and be more consistent throughout the lineup. He’s really taken that to heart and has put in some good work during practice and it’s translating into his game. He’s excited that he’s taken a big step this season, so we’re excited for him and he’ll be a big part of this group.”
“It was definitely a great feeling to get the monkey off my back,” Novello added. “We also came out hard after that, especially in the third period, which secured the win.”
With the game tied 1-1 with just under six and a half minutes into the second period, it would then be Thunderbirds third-year blueliner Kaden Dundas getting his second goal of the season on the power play at 13:34 from Austin Fellinger and Ryan Blackburn, which put the Thunderbirds ahead by a 2-1 score.
Dundas’s goal, also turned out to be the game-winner.
“Dunnie played well tonight,” Jarrett said. “He’s a leader for us back there and we need his A-game every night. He still has a little bit more to give, but he’s been a really good leader in terms of his attitude and his play. We know he (Dundas) has another level and we’re looking forward to seeing that.”
“It felt great to score the game-winning goal,” Dundas added. “I’m also trying to have more of a shot mentality this year, but I’m really excited that we’re back on the winning side again and we want to continue it”
With Rapids goaltender Ben Gustafson on the bench for an extra attacker late in the third period, it would then be Thunderbirds forward Ethan Raduy scoring his second goal of the season into an empty net from newly signed defenceman James Kearney with 52 seconds left to go in regulation, making the score 3-1 for the Soo.
Kearney, who drew an assist on Raduy’s tally, also gave himself his first NOJHL point in just his second game played as a Soo Thunderbird.
“James (Kearney) played well tonight,” Jarrett said. “He’s a big kid. He moves really well. I liked his physicality tonight and it’s a step in the right direction. Kearney played well in his first game with us in Elliot Lake back on Tuesday, and tonight in his second game (first at home) he improved even more.”
On Friday night, the Thunderbirds also got a strong performance in goal from their rookie netminder Kolton Bourret, as he made 29 saves along with being named first star of the game.
It was also the second straight home game that Bourret was named as one of the three stars.
“Kolton looks really great,” Jarrett said. “He’s a big kid. He’s really calm in the net and he plays his position really well. He’s always trying to get better everyday and we’re really happy with the start he’s had.”
“I felt the team all-around has really helped me out and they’ve helped me a lot with me coming into this season as a rookie,” Bourret added. “The team has really supported me a lot and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to be with this year.”
Before signing with the Soo Thunderbirds back on August 15, Bourret played the 2021-2022 season with the Great North Under-18 Hockey League’s North Bay Trappers Under-18 team, where he had a 2.58 goals against average and 1 shutout through 15 regular season contests.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario native is also a 2021 15th round pick of the OHL’s North Bay Battalion.
“Jamie (Henderson), CJ (Cole Jarrett) and Brian Kment have really been helping me during our practices this year to help me get better at this level,” Bourret said. “It’s been a good start to my first season in this league so far, and I’d like to keep it going.”
Rapids goaltender Ben Gustafson also had a strong night in goal for his club on Friday night as he made 49 saves on 51 shots in the loss.
Gustafson, who made 49 saves on Friday night, was also named second star of the game.
Rapids rookie forward Matthew Campanella had the lone goal for his club on Friday night, which came on the power play just 43 seconds into the second period from Owen Ethier.
Campanella, who entered Friday night’s game with 2 assists in 2 games, also found the back of the net for the first time in his NOJHL career.
The Thunderbirds will now get set to hit the road next week for their final three games of the month of September, beginning with back-to-back games in Hearst on Thursday, September 22 and Friday, September 23, followed by a visit to Cochrane on Saturday, September 24.
(Photo credit to Matt Stefano)