Thunderbirds come close to getting a shutout, but still get the victory against the Beavers

By Matt Stefano

The shutout didn’t happen, but the victory still did!

Noah Zeppa’s shutout bid was broken with just 27 seconds to go in the third period, but the Soo Thunderbirds still picked up a big two points on Wednesday night as they defeated the Blind River Beavers by a score of 4-1 at the John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

The Thunderbirds, who picked up a 4–1 victory over the Beavers on Wednesday night, were also coming off a 4-0 shutout loss to the Powassan Voodoos last Saturday in the Soo.

“I thought tonight’s game started out a bit sloppy for both sides,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett. “During the first period it seemed like the puck was bouncing quite a bit and it was probably due to the fact that Blind River had a bunch of regulars out of the lineup. Everyone is also still just getting back into the season after the January lockdown and playing in just the third game of this year feels like a new season and that should be expected. But I thought our guys did a good job sticking with the program and we asked them to do certain things before the game and through the sixty minutes we were able to wear them (Blind River) down and we ultimately got the W.”

Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Zeppa, who got the start in net for the Thunderbirds on Wednesday night, made 25 saves for the victory, and was also named first star of the game.

Since returning to the Thunderbirds lineup, Zeppa has now given himself of 2 wins and 0 losses.

“I thought Zeps was good tonight,” Jarrett said. “He battled all night and saw the puck really well. Sometimes he wasn’t too active, but whenever the Beavers sustained pressure, he got the shot and gobbled up the rebound and he was able to settle things down for us. He was a rock for us tonight and we’re really excited for him now that he’s back and he’s playing well and that’s great to see for sure.”

On Wednesday night, Thunderbirds leading scorer Cooper Foster led the way offensively with a power play goal and two assists, giving him his 10th multi-point game of the season.

Since returning from the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, Foster has now given himself 6 points in his first three games played in the year 2022.

“Coop was good again tonight,” Jarrett said. “He’s the type of player that you expect big things out of. He’s always in the right spot and he’s always starting a play the right way. I’m not surprised that he’s having success on the scoresheet because he even does the little things so well. For him at this level, it’s about getting that compete up and getting that pace up all the time and he’s been doing that. You can also see that the time he spent with the Ottawa 67’s last month has paid off and he’s having a lot of success now that he’s back here.”

Foster, who entered Wednesday night’s game with 9 goals, scored his 10th goal of the season on the power play at the 18:48 mark of the second period from Mason Chitaroni and Brock Santa Maria, which put the Thunderbirds up 2-0 after two periods of play.

Chitaroni, who drew an assist on Foster’s goal, also gave himself his third point in a Thunderbirds uniform and his first point against his former team, the Blind River Beavers.

“It felt great,” Chitaroni said. “I’m really glad we came out with the win tonight. It’s always important to win the teams that are in your division and for me picking up a point (assist) against my former team definitely feels great.”

Wednesday night’s game was also the first time Chitaroni faced his former team, since being traded by them to Cobourg back on September 29.

“Playing against Bricker (Kyle Brick) you never know what’s going to come,” Chitaroni said. “We had to work hard tonight and we needed to win our battles. We knew it was going to be a good game against them tonight and it was.”

On Wednesday night, the Thunderbirds also saw a great performance from their alternate captain Michael Chaffay.

Chaffay, who entered Wednesday night’s game with 10 goals, finished the night with a pair of goals, giving him his second career multi-goal game.

Chaffay opened the scoring for the Thunderbirds with his 11th goal of the season from Cooper Foster at the 12:59 mark of the first period, which gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead after twenty minutes of play.

The Thunderbirds alternate captain then got his second goal of the game and 12th goal of the season just 42 ticks into the third period from Cooper Foster and Kyle Trottier, which at that time gave the Thunderbirds a 3-0 lead.

Chaffay’s second goal of the game also came on the Thunderbirds first shot on goal in the third period.

With the Thunderbirds leading 3-0 late in the third period, it would then be Beavers forward Meguire Naughton breaking Noah Zeppa’s shutout bid with just 27 seconds to go in regulation from Alexander Tingay, cutting the Thunderbirds lead to 3-1.

Naughton, who scored his 9th goal of the season, also extended his goal-scoring streak to three games and his point-scoring streak to five games.

“It was nice to get a goal near the end,” said Beavers head coach Kyle Brick. “I thought we worked hard and it just wasn’t going for us tonight, so it was nice to break the shutout and we’re happy for Notts (Meguire Naughton).”

Following Naughton’s goal, the Thunderbirds then responded with a goal of their own with just 2 seconds to go in the third period, courtesy of Alfred Rotiroti’s 6th goal of the season from Kyle Trottier, which put the Soo up 4-1.

Rotiroti, who entered Wednesday night’s game with 5 goals (All coming on the road), also found the back of the net for the first time this season on John Rhodes ice.

Beavers goaltender Patrick Boivin, who got his second straight start in net for the Beavers on Wednesday night, gave up 4 goals on 33 shots in the loss.

Since being acquired in a trade from the Espsnola Express back on the January 10 trade deadline, Boivin has now given himself a record of 0 wins and 2 losses in a Beavers uniform.

“Patty was great,” Brick said. “Patty gave us a chance to win tonight, but the bounces didn’t seem to go our way tonight and we took a few undisciplined penalties. One of those penalties also led to a power play goal and the Thunderbirds have some really skilled players on their team that can hurt you on the power play.”

With the win, the Thunderbirds have now improved their record to 21 wins, 5 losses, 2 overtime losses and 3 shootout losses, good for 47 points and first place in the NOJHL’s West standings, while the Beavers record now falls to 14 wins, 12 losses and 2 overtime losses, good for 30 points and third place in the NOJHL’s West Division standings.

The Beavers, who entered Wednesday night’s game with two straight losses, also extended their losing streak to three straight games for the second time this season.

“We’re not making any excuses, but missing Ethan Pegg, who is a top defender in our league really hurt us tonight, but at the end of the day we need to cut out some of the catastrophic mistakes that lead to goals for the other team,” Brick said.

Next action for the Thunderbirds will be on Saturday afternoon at 4:15 p.m., when they take on the French River Rapids, who will make their first and only visit to the Soo this season.

(Photo of Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Zeppa credit to Bob Davies)







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