On Friday night, the Soo Thunderbirds were looking to show the rest of their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League opponents that they could compete with the league's best.
Despite a 3-2 loss at the hands of the league leading North Bay Skyhawks at the Memorial Gardens, the Thunderbirds showed that they could run with the big boys.
In a game that could have gone either way, North Bay won the game on special teams, where they managed to score twice with the man advantage.
In the first period, the Thunderbirds struck first as Alex Butkus, parked in the slot, took a feed from Tom Vernelli from behind the net and beat North Bay goaltender Chris Hardill, a former member of the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's, to give the home team a one goal lead at 8:10.
Not long after, the Skyhawks tied the game as Pat Power beat Jarrett Michaels at 11:29.
In the second period, despite some quality chances by both teams, the Skyhawks took the lead. At 8:31, Power, who was named the game's second star, scored with Eric McKechnie in the penalty box to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.
Then, at 14:54, Rob Bonhomme beat Michaels to send the game into the third period with the Hawks leading the Birds 3-1.
In the third period, the Thunderbirds made an attempt to battle back when Kelly Thomson scored at 11:30 of the period to cut the lead down to one.
The Thunderbirds did have a chance late to tie the game as Butkus and Ryan MacKay broke in on a two-on-one, but Hardill made a big save on Butkus coming across the crease to stop the big winger on the cross-crease pass.
Thunderbirds coach Jim Capy was upbeat following the game, despite the loss.
"I thought we played well enough to win," Capy said. "Their power play was better than ours tonight. We're certainly pleased with the effort. We know we can compete with (North Bay). It was a solid team effort both ways. I've got nothing to be disappointed with tonight."
Capy also credited both goaltenders in the game who made some key saves at key times to keep the game close. In all, Michaels made 24 saves for the Thunderbirds, while Hardill made 28 for the Skyhawks in the win.
"(Hardill) made some nice saves in the third period," Capy said about the goaltending. "Our goaltending was solid too."
The Thunderbirds now prepare to face another tough test as the Sudbury Northern Wolves make an appearance in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday evening. Game time is 6 p.m. at the John Rhodes Community Centre.