By Matt Stefano
The Soo Thunderbirds officially kicked off their 2017-2018 season Friday night as they were in Hearst to take on the newest NOJHL team, the Hearst Lumberjacks.
It was also the first time the Thunderbirds began their regular season on the road since the 2009-2010 season.
There were a lot of new things taking place at Claude Larose Arena on Friday night, with the Hearst Lumberjacks making their NOJHL debut in front of their home fans and the visiting Soo Thunderbirds, who were wearing new uniforms with a new logo, new colours, and had a new face behind the bench in John Parco.
Parco, who turned 46 years old back on August 25th, was hired as the Thunderbirds new bench boss back in July, replacing Jordan Smith, who moved up to the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves to take an associate coaching position.
Friday night’s lineup also saw a total of 9 players making their debut in a Soo Thunderbird uniform.
Despite having 30 shots on net, the Thunderbirds got blanked 2-0 against the Lumberjacks at Claude Larose Arena.
Brad Golant had a goal (empty net/shorthanded) and an assist for the Lumberjacks while Max Griffioen also got on the scoresheet with one goal.
Shadow Reuben and Wade Auger had an assist each for the Lumberjacks.
Lumberjacks goalie Artem Bortovskiy made 30 saves for his first shutout of the season while Thunderbirds third-year net-minder Brandon Gordon gave up 1 goal on 39 shots in the loss.
The last time the Thunderbirds lost a season opener, was back on September 9th, 2011, when they dropped a 5-3 decision to the Soo Eagles.
Thunderbirds are back in action on Saturday as they visit Cochrane to take on the Crunch at 7:30 p.m. from the Tim Horton Event Centre.
Former Soo Thunderbirds defenceman Medric Mercier, who completed his OHL career last year in Oshawa, will suit up for the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL Prospects Tournament, which is being held from September 8th-12th in Traverse City, Michigan.
Mercier, who played with the Thunderbirds during the 2013-2014 season, had 4 goals and 6 assists through 31 regular season games and helped the club clinch first in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
The Gloucester, Ontario native, who played two full seasons with the Soo Greyhounds from 2014-2016, before being dealt to the Oshawa Generals during the 2016-2017 season, ended up scoring 21 goals as a member of the Generals.
Mercier, who had 21 goals with Oshawa last season, became the first Generals defenceman to score 20 or more goals in a single season since Jim Baxter, who had 22 during the 1998-1999 season.