Zeppa picks up 10th straight win as Thunderbirds edge Lumberjacks

By Matt Stefano

Noah Zeppa’s winning streak has hit double digits!

On Thursday night, Soo Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Zeppa picked up his 10th straight win between the pipes, making 31 saves in a 2-1 victory over the Hearst Lumberjacks at the John Rhodes Conmunity Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

Since returning to the Thunderbirds lineup following the Christmas break, Zeppa has not lost a single game in the year 2022.

“The second half of this season has been amazing,” said Soo Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Zeppa, who now has a perfect 10-0 record in the year 2022. “I just want to say thank you to the boys for such a warm welcome back after I took a leave of absence back in October. They gave me my space for a bit, but I couldn’t have asked for a better second half. We’re coming to the rink everyday, we’re working hard and we’re having some fun.”

Zeppa, who picked up his 10th straight win on Thursday night, also became the first Thunderbird goaltender to have a 10-game winning streak since Dougie Newhouse did back in the 2016-2017 season.

“I remember coming to the rink and watching Dougie (Newhouse) play with the Thunderbirds, and I still remember him and the Birds had a great season that year too,” Zeppa said. “Honestly it’s a huge accomplishment to have a 10-game winning streak since he (Dougie Newhouse) did, but I have to thank my teammates for helping me out too, because they’ve been amazing since I came back to the lineup.”

On Thursday night, Thunderbirds rookie forward Cooper Foster led the way offensively with a pair of assists, giving him a total of 60 points on the season.

Foster, who recorded his 60th point on Thursday night, also became the first Thunderbird rookie record to 60 points in a regular season since Brian Nanne did back in 2010-2011.

“Coop was solid tonight,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett, whose team played in their final home game of their 2021-2022 regular season on Thursday night. “We became shorthanded after we lost Capper (Dharan Cap) following his fight with Robbie Rutledge at the end of the second period, but we can always rely on a guy like Foster in all situations and that’s pretty good considering he’s a 16-year old kid. I love how Cooper responds and he responded well tonight in a game like this, especially against older and bigger players.”

The Thunderbirds opening the scoring at the 11:32 mark of the opening period, courtesy of Kelsey Ouellet’s 16th goal of the season from Kyle Trottier and Cooper Foster, which gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead after twenty minutes of play.

The Thunderbirds then took a 2-0 with just 1:19 to go in the second period, courtesy of Brock Santa Maria’s 13th goal of the season on the power play from Cooper Foster and Andrew Gibson, which gave the Thunderbirds a two-goal cushion heading into the third.

Gibson, who recorded an assist on Santa Maria’s power play tally, also gave himself his 12th power play assist at home this season, which tied the team record for most power play assists at home by a Thunderbird player during a regular season, joining Tyler Gendron (2006-2007) and Nick Smith (2018-2019).

“Obviously it feels great to tie a team record, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates because they put the puck at the back of the net when I set them up well,” Gibson said.

Prior to Thursday night’s game, Gibson was also honoured by the Thunderbirds in a pre-game ceremony for setting a trio team records this season, including most goals by a defenceman in during a regular season along with recording the most points and assists ever by a Thunderbird rookie defenceman.

“It felt amazing to be honoured for all my accomplishments before the game tonight, especially as a rookie, Gibson said. “I also give a lot of credit to my coaches and my teammates for getting me there.”

Zachary Demers (power play) had the lone goal for the Lumberjacks on Thursday night with Tyler Patterson picking up the only assist.

The goal by Demers came at the 8:33 mark of the third period, which at that time cut the Thunderbirds lead to 2–1.

Lumberjacks goaltender Matteo Gennaro gave up 2 goals on 27 shots in the loss.

The Thunderbirds, who picked up a win in their final home game of their regular season on Thursday night, will now play their final game of their regular season on Saturday, April 2, when they visit Cochrane to take on the Cochrane Crunch at the Tim Hortons Event Centre, beginning at 8:00 p.m.

A win by the Thunderbirds that night would also tie their team record for most wins on the road (21) during a regular season.

“We’re going to try and take the same mentality that we had tonight (Thursday),” Jarrett said. “For us, we were fortunate to clinch the league regular season championship last Saturday in Soo Michigan and now we’re in playoff mode. The boys had a great effort tonight against Hearst and I expect the same thing out of them on Saturday night in Cochrane.”

(Photo credit to Bob Davies)



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