Thunderbirds get shutout by their former goaltender Alex Bugeja

By Matt Stefano

After opening up the year 2022 with a 6-2 win over the Greater Sudbury Cubs on Friday night in the Soo, the Soo Thunderbirds were right back in action on Saturday night for their second straight home game as they took on the Powassan Voodoos, who made their first and only visit to the Soo this season.

On Saturday night, the Thunderbirds were also up against their former goaltender Alex Bugeja, who returned to the Soo for the first time since being traded to the Voodoos last June.

Despite outshooting the Voodoos 31-24 overall, the Thunderbirds fell to the Voodoos by a score of 4-0 at the John Rhodes.

It was also the third time this season that the Thunderbirds lost a game by a shutout.

“I thought we got out worked for the first twenty minutes,” said Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett, whose team trailed 3-0 after the first period. “What Bugeja saw, he stopped. But what he couldn’t see, we either hit the post or it was a near miss. We didn’t do that good of a job of testing him (Bugeja) even though we had the 31 shots on net. For me, it just came down to the first period and getting out worked.”

Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Metiver, who got the start in net on Saturday night, made 20 saves in the loss.

“I thought Tives battled,” Jarrett said. “It was a weird start to our game and they (Powassan) were all over us in the first period. We weren’t moving our feet, we were watching them and unfortunately Tives was starting to feel the affects of that. But as he settled in and as the game went on, I thought he was solid and he made the stops that he had to make. From the second period on, maybe Powassan had one grade-A chance, but Tives did what he had to do and as a group we would like to have that first period back.”

The Voodoos, who blanked the Thunderbirds 4-0 on Saturday night in Sault, Ontario, were also coming off a 4-0 loss to the Soo Eagles on Friday night in Sault, Michigan.

“Before tonight’s game, we talked about that we were going to have some bad games now and then,” said Voodoos head coach Marc Lafleur. “We were not very happy whatsoever with our performance the night before. For us, this was about making sure that this was going to be a bounce back game. Whether we were going to win or lose, we knew the Thunderbirds were going to be a great team against us on the ice tonight.”

Voodoos goaltender Alex Bugeja, who got the start in net on Saturday night, made 31 saves for his second shutout of the season and his first shutout against his former team, the Soo Thunderbirds.

“Bugeja made some big saves when be needed to and we capitalized when the opportunity came,” Lafleur said. “Yes it was a 4-0 win for us, but the game could’ve went either way in terms of scoring chances. I thought the Soo deserved a better outcome as well.”

Bugeja, who stopped all 31 shots fired his way, was also named first star of the game in his return to the Soo.

“It feels amazing obviously,” Bugeja said. “This was the barn where I spent alot of time last season with the Thunderbirds, so it was nice to come back here and show what I’ve been working on during the summer.”

Bugeja, who was a member of the Soo Thunderbirds last season, helped the Thunderbirds win the COVID Cup against the Blind River Beavers last March, and was also named the Thunderbirds Most Valuable Player for the 2020-2021 season.

“Playing with the Thunderbirds gave me a lot of great memories,” Bugeja said. “The COVID Cup is something that I’ll remember for a long time. I haven’t been able to play in many playoff games in my junior career because of the way how COVID has been. Last season, I was with a great group of guys on the Thunderbirds and it really gave me a push last summer to dig deep and find a new level.”

The Voodoos led the Thunderbirds 3-0 after the first period, getting goals from Caleb Van de Ven, Jackson Buffam (power play) and Robion Tatarenko.

Van de Ven, who is a 2020 13th round pick of the Soo Greyhounds, opened the scoring with his 7th goal of the season at the 2:06 mark of the first period from Jake Fullerton and Robion Tatarenko, which turned out to be the game-winner.

“Caleb (Van de Ven) is a very highly skilled defenceman,” Lafleur said. “Tonight he didn’t force things, he took what was given to him. He joined the rush when he needed to. He also stayed back during the moments when it wasn’t smart to join the rush. He played incredible tonight and we expect the same type of performance out of him for down the stretch, because it’s pretty close in the standings and we need guys like him to be dominant.”

Voodoos forward Jacob McLellan had the other goal for his club, which was scored into an empty net at the 19:27 mark of the third period from Brett Richardson.

The Thunderbirds will now be back in action on Wednesday, February 9, when they take on the Blind River Beavers at the John Rhodes.

Puck drop for that game is set for 7:30 p.m.

(Photo of Voodoos goaltender Alex Bugeja credit to Bob Davies)


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