Thunderbirds drop their season opening game against the Soo Eagles

By Matt Stefano

After being crowned Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy champions for the 5th time in franchise history last season, the Soo Thunderbirds officially returned to the ice for their 24th season in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League on Friday night at the John Rhodes Community Centre as they took on their cross-border rivals the Soo Eagles.

Friday night’s game also marked the return of forward Kenny Belanger Jr., who was traded from the Thunderbirds to the Eagles back on July 26.

The Soo Thunderbirds opened up their 2022-2023 regular season with a loss on Friday night as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Soo Eagles at the John Rhodes.

Despite outshooting the Eagles 13-9 in the opening period of play, the Thunderbirds fell behind 2-0 after twenty minutes.

“I thought it was really just a couple breakdowns that led to goals for them in the first period,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett. “I thought we had the majority or more of the grade-A chances and obviously we outshot them in the that period (first period), but it was just mistakes that were made with us being a new group in our first game. The first period was a very positive period from our perspective other than the score, but you don’t want to put yourself down 2-0 after the first anytime.”

With the Thunderbirds trailing the Eagles 2-0 just over five minutes into the middle frame, it would then be Thunderbirds forward Brock Santa Maria scoring his first goal of the season on the power play from Youssef Chaouachi and Ludovic Raymond, which cut the Eagles lead to 2-1.

Santa Maria, who scored the Thunderbirds first goal of their 2022-2023 season, also scored for the first time since he scored the cup-winning goal back on May 12 in the Thunderbirds 3-2 overtime victory against the Hearst Lumberjacks in game 7 of the NOJHL final.

“It was nice to see Brock get off to a good start this season with a goal,” Jarrett said. “We always need more out of everybody including Brock if we want to have success this season. It was good to see Brock get a goal tonight and that was one of the positives, but as a team we need to be better for next game.”

With the Eagles leading 2-1 halfway through the third period, it would then be former Soo Thunderbirds forward Kenny Belanger Jr. getting his first goal of the season and his first goal as a Soo Eagle from Brian Fiddes and Luke Jimenez at 10:52, which put the Eagles up by a score of 3-1.

Belanger, who scored his first goal as a member of the Soo Eagles, also scored for the first time against his former team (The Soo Thunderbirds).

“It felt good to score a goal against my former team tonight,” Belanger said. “This was also a good win for us tonight and it’s a good start to the season for the boys.”

After putting the Eagles up by a score of 3-1 with his first goal against his former team, Belanger then gave himself his second point of the night as he drew an assist on an empty net goal by Brian Fiddes at the 19:08 mark of the third period, which then made the score 4-1 for the Eagles.

Belanger, who finished the night with a goal and an assist, was also named first star of the game in his return to Sault, Ontario.

“I’m sure it was a little bit of a nerve racking game for Kenny tonight, but I’m sure a lot of those guys on the Thunderbirds are his friends that he grew up playing hockey with. But this is hockey and we needed an extra piece this season to make our team (Soo Eagles) better and Kenny became available, so we jumped at the chance to get him,” said Soo Eagles head coach Doug LaPrade.

Kenny Belanger Jr. and Brian Fiddes led the way offensively for the Eagles on Friday night with a goal and an assist each while Vincent Anderson and Chase Tallaire both got on the scoresheet with one goal each.

Tieg Dreissen, Michael Szlag and Michael Starzomski all also got on the scoresheet for the Eagles with one assist each.

Eagles goaltender Logan Raffaele stopped 29 of 30 shots for the victory while Thunderbirds rookie netminder Kolton Bourret gave up 3 goals on 27 shots in the loss.

Next action for the Thunderbirds will be on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m., when they will take on the Elliot Lake Red Wings at the John Rhodes.


On Friday night, the Soo Thunderbirds lost their season opening game by a score of 4-1 against the Soo Eagles at the John Rhodes.


The last time the Soo Thunderbirds lost a season opening game against the Soo Eagles, was eleven years ago today on September 9, 2011, when they fell to the Eagles by a score of 5-3 at the Essar Centre (Now named the GFL Memorial Gardens).

Despite losing their season opener against the Eagles that year, the Thunderbirds still went on to win the Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy followed by a Dudley Hewitt Cup title at the end of the season (2011-2012).

(Photo credit to Bob Davies)

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