By Matt Stefano
Hockey season in the Soo has returned!
On Friday, November 20th, the Soo Thunderbirds officially kicked off their 22nd season in the NOJHL as they took on the Blind River Beavers at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
The Thunderbirds were supposed to start their regular season against the Beavers back on Saturday, November 14th, but the game was then postponed after three players on Blind River were feeling COVID-related symptoms.
But after all three players tested negative, both teams were then cleared to play.
The Thunderbirds, who finished the 2020 preseason with a perfect 2-0 record against the Beavers, dropped their opening game of the regular season, losing by a score of 4-2 at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
It was also the first time the Thunderbirds lost a season opening game since the 2017-2018 season.
“We were a little shaky off the start,” said Thunderbirds rookie defenceman Connor Toms. “Blind River came out hard and we weren’t expecting it, but we’ll be ready for next game.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thunderbirds and Beavers also played their first regular season game without any body contact.
“It took us the first two games in the preseason to adjust to the new style of play. But it’s pretty similar to normal hockey even without hitting and it’s still a fast paced game,” said Toms.
Toms led the way offensively for the Thunderbirds on Friday night with a goal and an assist.
The sixteen-year old defenceman recorded his first NOJHL point with an assist on Michael Chaffay’s power play goal at the 3:30 mark of the first period, which gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead.
With the Thunderbirds trailing 3-1 late in the opening period, Toms would then notch his first NOJHL goal at the 16:28 mark of the first period from Ty Zachary and Cameron Dutkiewicz, which cut the Beavers lead to 3-2.
“It was a pretty cool feeling,” said Toms. “It got the boys rattled up and it was nice.”
Toms, who is in his rookie season with the Thunderbirds, spent last season with the GNML’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds, where he led all team defencemen in goals (9), assists (17) and points (26) in 39 regular season games.
“I had a great season with them and I learned a lot,” said Toms “The Jr. Greyhounds really helped me last year and now I’m looking forward to playing with the Thunderbirds.”
Following his season with GNML’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds, Toms was then drafted in the 3rd round (44th overall) by his hometown OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, the same team his father Jeff played with from 1991-1994.
“It was pretty special,” said Toms. “It’s still kind of surreal, but I’m still working for it.”
Following Friday’s loss to Blind River, Toms was named the Subway Second Star of the Game.
Beavers forward Nicholas Jameus led the way offensively for his club with a goal and and assist.
Jameus scored on a penalty shot at the 15:36 mark of the first period, which at that time gave the Beavers a 3-1 lead.
Teegan Dumont, Jared Dupuis and Lucas Adams had the other goals for the Beavers while Alex Tingay and Sam Davies had one assist each.
Thunderbirds goaltender Alex Bugeja gave up 4 goals on 41 shots in the loss while Beavers netminder Wyatt Courchaine made 36 saves for the victory.
The Soo will now travel in Blind River on Saturday for a rematch against the Beavers at the Blind River Community Centre.
Puck drop will be at 7:00 p.m.
“We’re going to put this game behind us and just get ready for tomorrow,” said Toms.
(Photo credit to Bob Davies)