By Matt Stefano
One point is all the Soo Thunderbirds needed to clinch their third consecutive James Aspin Trophy as the NOJHL’s regular season champions and on Wednesday night they earned two points to do so in a 5-2 win over the Rayside Balfour Canadians.
T-Birds rookie forward Drake Pilon had his second career two goal game while Ryan Mulligan and Brett Jeffries also had two point efforts with a pair of assists each. Mark Tassone, Adam McPhail and Jake Behse (power play) had the other goals for the Soo while Brandon Grandinetti, Matt Pinder, Joey Miller, Jaren Bellini, Caleb Boman and Darian Pilon all recorded single assists.
Jayme Forslund and Tristan Simm had the goals for Rayside while Kendall Huckins had a two point night setting up a pair of tallies. Matt Neault and Brad Chenier both got on the scoresheet with an assist each.
“It was just an overall great effort by the guys,” said T-Birds rookie forward Drake Pilon. “We knew they were going to come out strong and we played our game the whole sixty minutes.”
Following Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Rayside, the Soo Thunderbirds became the first team to win three consecutive NOJHL regular season titles since the North Bay Skyhawks (2003-2005).
“It feels unbelievable,” continued Pilon, who earned first star of the night. “It shows our hard work, but it just makes us realize that the hard work starts now and the new season starts now because we are 0-0 now.”
The T-Birds, who also headed into Wednesday’s game with a perfect 23-0 home record, tied their team record for their longest home winning streak at twenty four games dating back to the 2013-2014 regular season.
“I think it’s just the big ice surface and our speed,” continued Pilon. “Only when that comes into factor I don’t think anyone can keep up with us.”
The T-Birds will now begin a home and home series on Friday, March 4th at 7:30 p.m. in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan before returning to Essar Centre ice Saturday, March 5th at 7:30 p.m. against the Soo Eagles.
“We have to set the tempo,” concluded Pilon. “We have to make sure that the Soo Eagles know we’re coming out hard, we’re not a team to mess with and we’re going to win everything.”
T-Birds goalie Connor Ryckman made seventeen saves for the win while Canadians goalie Mackenzie Savard, who gave up three goals on ten shots was replaced by Jesse Morin at the start of the second period, who then went on to give up two goals on thirty five shots the rest of the way.
Prior to the start of the second period, T-Birds defenceman Caleb Boman was honoured with a team award and game puck for setting the Soo Thunderbirds records for most career goals by a defenceman with twenty one and most goals in a single season by a defenceman with fourteen.
The previous records were held by former T-Birds defenceman Bronson Kovacs:
Most career goals by a T-Birds defenceman = 20 during 2006-2010
Most goals in a single season by a T-Birds defenceman = 13 during 2010
Also, for remaining home games, Soo Thunderbirds banquet tickets will be on sale and for the next two T-Bird home games at the Essar Centre, Sault Minor hockey players who are fourteen years old or younger can enter the game for free just by wearing their team jacket.
GRADS TO BE HONOURED:
Prior to this Saturday’s home game, the T-Birds will be honouring their graduating players and fans are asked to arrive early before 7:30 p.m.
(Photo credit to James Egan’s Sports Photography)