Thunderbirds take game 1 of the West Division final

By Matt Stefano

After eliminating the Blind River Beavers four-games-to-none in the NOJHL West Division semifinal series back on Monday, April 11 in Blind River, the Soo Thunderbirds continued postseason action on Tuesday, April 19 as they took on the Soo Eagles in game 1 of the NOJHL West Division final series at the John Rhodes.

The Thunderbirds, who finished the regular season in first place in the NOJHL West Division standings, took on an Eagles team that finished in second place.

On Tuesday night, the Thunderbirds got goals from three different players as they defeated the Soo Eagles by a score of 3–1 in game 1 of the NOJHL West Division final series.

“I thought we came out hard tonight and we battled,” said Soo Thunderbirds captain Brock Santa Maria. “We made some adjustments coming into tonight’s game and we pretty well executed.”

Thunderbirds captain Brock Santa Maria, who suited up for his 14th career postseason game on Tuesday night, scored his first career NOJHL playoff goal at the 13:56 mark of the second period, which gave the Thunderbirds a 2-0 lead.

Santa Maria’s first career playoff goal also turned out to be the game-winner.

“It felt great to get my first career playoff goal tonight,” Santa Maria said. “I had chances to score in previous playoff games and the goals didn’t come, but it feels great to get one tonight, especially since it’s the game-winner.”

During Tuesday night’s game, Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Zeppa made 31 stops for his third win of the postseason, and was also named first star of the game.

Zeppa, who was named first star of the game on Tuesday night, has now also been named first star of the game in his last two starts.

“I thought Zepps was great tonight,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett. “He made saves on a couple breakaways and he also came up big on some other chances that the Soo Eagles had early on.”

Following Tuesday night’s game, Eagles head coach Doug LaPrade also spoke highly about Zeppa’s performance.

“Noah Zeppa had a great game tonight and he made some great saves,” said LaPrade, whose team finished the night with 32 shots on net. “He saved a couple breakaways that we had tonight, so hats off to him, because you need good goaltending to win playoff games.”

Zeppa, who finished the night with 31 saves, had his shutout bid spoiled at the 19:20 mark of the third period, when Eagles defenceman Coby Fox scored his second goal of the postseason on the power play from Jack Mortson and Chase Tallaire, which at that time cut the Thunderbirds lead to 3-1.

Fox’s second goal of the postseason also came on his 19th birthday.

“I didn’t know it was Coby’s birthday until after he scored the goal, so I’m very happy for him,” LaPrade said. “Coby works really, really hard and he’s a good physical presence for our team. Having somebody like that get rewarded for his hard work is a great thing for us.”

Fox, who now has 2 goals this postseason, has already scored more goals than he had during the regular season.

In 35 games played during the regular season, Fox only found the back of the net once while setting up 9 others.

“I think sometimes when you work hard you get lucky,” LaPrade said. “Like the old quote says, the harder you work, the luckier you get. Coby works hard and he deserves those goals. I think there was a number of times during the regular season where he could’ve scored and it just didn’t go in for him, but it’s good to see a young hard working kid like him get rewarded.”

Kelsey Ouellet and Cooper Foster had the other goals for the Thunderbirds on Tuesday night while Youssef Chaouachi, Kyle Trottier, Mason Chitaroni and Kolby Fellinger all chipped in with one assist each.

Eagles goaltender Ryan Gilmore gave up 3 goals on 34 shots in the loss.

The Thunderbirds will now be in action against the Eagles for game 2 of the NOJHL West Division final series, which will take place on Wednesday night at the John Rhodes, beginning at 7:00 p.m.

“It’s a quick turnaround and for the guys it’s just about getting what they need,” Jarrett said. “They need to make sure their energy level is high for tomorrow (Wednesday) and we’ll be ready to go for game 2.”

(Photo credit to Matt Stefano)


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