It was fitting that the Soo Thunderbirds and Blind River Beavers opened their respective Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular seasons schedules against each other on Saturday night.
After all, the teams met 17 times last season as part of a cohort during the 2020-21 NOJHL season.
The Thunderbirds scored a pair of goals in the opening period en route to a 7-0 win over the Beavers at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday evening.
Tyson Doucette led the way offensively for the Thunderbirds with three goals while Noah Zeppa picked up the shutout in goal, stopping 17 Blind River shots in the contest.
“We played well and got the win, but more important to that, the guys worked their butts off,” said Thunderbirds coach Cole Jarrett. “They were hunting pucks all night, reloading and making sure they were tracking back. Everything that we asked them to do before the game, they definitely came out and did that in the first period. We got away from it a little bit in the second and then circled back in the third and finished off strong.”
Pleased with the effort on opening night, Jarrett credited the defensive game of the Thunderbirds in the win as well.
“We were really hard to play against in our own zone,” Jarrett said. “I really liked what I saw out of everybody, especially with a couple of rookies back there in Creo Solomon and Michael Beltrano. They stepped in right away and took on that heavy load and did a fantastic job.”
Doucette opened the scoring for the Thunderbirds 44 seconds into the contest, beating Blind River goaltender Gavin Disano with a shot from the right faceoff circle.
He extended the Thunderbirds lead in the second period before capping off the hat trick in the third.
“He can take a lot of confidence from this,” Jarrett said. “He did the right things all summer long and you can tell. He’s matured tremendously as a player. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and with that, he’s gotten way faster. He’s always had a really good head for the game. His speed was unmatched tonight and then his hockey sense took over.”
Connor Healy, Brock Santa Maria, Ken Belanger, and Christian Howanitz also scored for the Thunderbirds in the victory.
Healy’s goal came midway through the opening period when he converted a one-timer from the right point on a feed from Russell Oldham.
With the Thunderbirds leading 3-0 through 40 minutes, Santa Maria extended the lead 1:48 into the third period when he cut in from the left circle, beat Blind River forward Joel Martin and then beat Disano from the slot.
Belanger extended the lead further off a faceoff win to the left of Disano. The young forward jumped on a loose puck and beat Disano short side to make it 5-0 at the time.
After Doucette made it 6-0, Howanitz capped off the scoring for the Thunderbirds on a wrap-around with 4:30 to go in the contest.
Disano made 31 saves for the Beavers in the loss.
The Thunderbirds return to action on Sept. 24 at home against Blind River.