By Matt Stefano
After concluding the year 2019 with a 6-4 loss in Espanola back on December 22nd, the Soo Thunderbirds returned to action for the first time of 2020 on Friday night as they made another visit to Espanola for a rematch against the Express.
The Thunderbirds were also up against Express defenceman Mattias Salem, who was named the NOJHL’s Defenceman Of The Month for December.
Despite only having fourteen skaters in their lineup, including five defenceman and nine forwards, the Thunderbirds opened up the year 2020 with their twentieth victory of the season on Friday night as they defeated the Espanola Express by a score of 5-4 in overtime at the Espanola Regional Recreation Complex.
The Soo opened up the scoring at the 4:55 mark of the first period, as Mackenzie Walkington would notch his tenth goal of the season from Tristan Cicchello and Warner Young.
The Thunderbirds would then take a 2-0 lead at the 9:51 mark of the first, as Rylan Clemons would get his eighth goal of the season from Jake Kovacs and Hounds 2019 eleventh round pick Tyler Savard.
The Express would then get on the board with just 4:01 left to go in the first, courtesy of Brennan Martel’s third goal of the season from Jakob Fahey and William Whelton, cutting the Thunderbirds lead to 2-1 after twenty minutes of play.
Just 3:06 into the middle frame, it would be NOJHL’s top scoring defenceman Mattias Salem scoring his twelfth goal of the season from Tyler Nelson and Robert Maulucci, which tied the game up at two.
The Soo would then take a 3-2 lead with 7:00 minutes to go in the second, courtesy of Mackenzie Walkington’s second goal of the game and eleventh tally of the season from Avery Rebek and Cam Findlay.
Walkington, who scored his second goal of the game, also gave himself his second two-goal game of the season.
Then, just 1:55 later, it would be Thunderbirds defenceman Nolan Ford getting his fourth goal of the season from Brock Santa Maria and Will Josephson, which put the Soo up 4-2 after forty minutes of play.
With the Express down by two once again, they still found a way to tie the game up in the third period.
First, it would be Mattias Salem getting his second goal of the game on the power play from Lukas Lyszyk at 6:38, cutting the Thunderbirds lead to 4-3.
Then, it would be Sudbury, Ontario native Cameron Walker getting his sixth goal of the season from Jackson Legro and Colin McGuire at 16:08, which tied the game up at four after three periods of play.
Just ten seconds into overtime, it would be Thunderbirds rookie forward Jake Kovacs getting his eighteenth goal of the season from Rylan Clemons, which gave the Soo a 5-4 overtime victory.
Clemons, who finished the night with two points, also gave himself fourteen points in just seven games played with the Soo.
Express netminder Carson Boutin gave up five goals on forty one shots in the loss while Thunderbirds goaltender Dakota Meyer made twenty six saves for the victory.
With the win, the Thunderbirds have now improved their record to 20 wins, 13 losses, 2 overtime losses and 3 shootout losses while the Express record has now fallen to 10 wins, 21 losses, 3 overtime losses and 1 shootout loss.
The Thunderbirds will now play their first home game of 2020 this Sunday afternoon against the Timmins Rock, who are currently ranked No. 8 in Canada.
Puck drop is set for 2:00 p.m. at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
BIRDS ON THE MOVE
The last two days saw some transactions made by the Soo Thunderbirds.
First, the club sent defenceman Kevin Parra-Vaughan to the PJHL’s Delta Ice Hawks on January 2nd in exchange for a player development fee.
Parra-Vaughan had one goal and three assists in twenty six games with the Soo this season.
Then, on January third, the Thunderbirds have traded their leading scorer and co-captain Nick Smith to GOJHL’s Leamington Flyers in exchange for a player development fee.
Smith notched eighteen goals and twenty four assists in thirty games with the Soo this season.
In 180 career games with the Soo, Smith scored 91 goals and set up 100 others, good for 191 career points.
His 91 career goals put him second on the Soo Thunderbirds all-time goals list while his 191 career points put him third on the team’s all-time points list.
(Photo credit to Bob Davies)