Thunderbirds win 12 in a row

By Matt Stefano

It just seems like nothing can stop the Soo Thunderbirds hockey club these days!

Just like Energizer batteries, they keep going and going.

And on Friday night, not even the hottest team in the league (Hearst Lumberjacks) could stop them.

On Friday night, the Soo Thunderbirds extended their winning streak to 12 straight games as they doubled up the Hearst Lumberjacks by a score of 4-2 at Claude Larose Arena in Hearst.

Not only did the Thunderbirds extend their winning streak to 12 games on Friday night, but they also snapped the Lumberjacks winning streak, which ended at 12 games.

“Obviously we’re thrilled to get another win tonight,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett. “The boys battled hard from start to finish and deserved this one.”

The Lumberjacks opened the scoring just 3:01 into the first period, courtesy of Robbie Ruteldge’s team-leading 34th goal of the season on the power play from Raphael Lajuenesse, which put Hearst up 1-0 after twenty minutes of play.

Rutledge, who scored his team-leading 34th goal, was also celebrating his 18th birthday.

After trailing the Lumberjacks 1-0 after twenty minutes of play, the Thunderbirds then ended up scoring three times in a span of 2:42 in the second, building a 3-1 lead.

At the 12:53 mark of the second, it would be Thunderbirds captain Brock Santa Maria getting his 12th goal of the season on the power play, tying things up at one.

Just 57 seconds after Santa Maria’s goal, it would then be rookie forward Youssef Chaouachi getting his 7th goal of the season, putting the Thunderbirds ahead 2-1.

Then, at the 15:35 mark of the second, it would be rookie defenceman and Soo Greyhounds prospect Andrew Gibson getting his 19th goal of the season from Brock Santa Maria and Kaden Dundas, which put the Thunderbirds up by two goals.

“We were short 12 of the 20 minutes in the first period, so it’s pretty hard to generate any momentum when you’re short, but in the second period the tide changed a bit and we got some PP opportunities that got us going,” Jarrett said. “It was also nice to see us have some success 5 on 5, because that’s something we have focused on over the last little bit. Our 5 on 5 play has been improving every game.”

With the Thunderbirds leading 3-1 late in the second period, it would then be Lumberjacks forward Raphael Lajuenesse getting his 21st goal of the season from Zachary Demers at 16:40, which cut the Thunderbirds lead to 3-2 heading into the third.

Demers, who had the only assist on Lajuenesse’s goal, also gave himself his 46th assist of the season, which set the new team record for most assists by a Lumberjacks player during a regular season.

The previous record for most assists by a Lumberjacks player during a regular season, was held by Jake Desando, who had 45 back in 2018-2019.

With the Thunderbirds leading 3-2 midway through the third period, it would then be rookie defenceman Andrew Gibson getting his second goal of the night and 20th goal of the season at 10:32 from Kenny Belanger Jr. and Ethan Novello, which made the score 4-2 for the Thunderbirds.

Gibson, who scored his 20th goal, also became the first defenceman in the NOJHL to score 20 goals in a regular season since Brennan Roy (Abitibi Eskimos) and Nathan Campbell (Elliot Lake Wildcats) both did back in 2014-2015.

“Gibby was great all game and tonight was probably his best game since we came back from the lockdown,” Jarrett said. “He played a quick, simple and physical game. When he plays like that, he is a force out there.”

Lumberjacks goaltender Matteo Gennaro gave up 4 goals on 36 shots in the loss while Thunderbirds netminder Noah Metiver made 26 saves for the victory.

The Thunderbirds, who are now winners of 12 straight, will be right back in action on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. when they visit Timmins to take on the Timmins Rock at McIntyre Arena.

“It’s going to be a battle again tomorrow (Saturday) night,” Jarrett said. “If we want to continue this streak, we will have to be more disciplined and commit to playing with a lot of pace.”

(Photo of Thunderbirds rookie defenceman credit to Bob Davies)

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