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Thunderbirds climb back, advance to national championship

Captain Brock Santa Maria was the hero
2022-05-12 Thunderbirds NOJHL title NOJHL
The Soo Thunderbirds beat the Hearst Lumberjacks 3-2 in overtime to win the NOJHL championship at the John Rhodes Community Centre on May 12, 2022.

In a series that saw every game decided by two goals or less, it was fitting that the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League final came down to overtime to decide the league entry into the upcoming Centennial Cup.

A goal by Brock Santa Maria 3:26 into overtime was the difference as the Soo Thunderbirds beat the Hearst Lumberjacks 3-2 to capture the NOJHL title on Thursday night at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

Santa Maria took a pass in the slot from defenceman Andrew Gibson and beat Hearst goaltender Matteo Gennaro glove side to give the Thunderbirds the victory and complete a dramatic series comeback in the process.

The Thunderbirds trailed the series 3-0 before reeling off four consecutive wins to stun the Lumberjacks and earn the NOJHL’s berth in the Centennial Cup national championship, which is set to begin on May 19 at Affinity Place in Estevan, Sask.

After the teams skated to a scoreless opening period, the Thunderbirds got on the board first when Michael Beltrano took a pass from Mason Chitaroni near the blueline and beat Gennaro from the top of the right faceoff circle through traffic 2:55 into the second period.

Hearst got on the board later in the frame when Jaxson Holmes took a shot from the point that rebounded back into the slot where Thunderbirds defenceman Kyle Trottier attempted to clear it. The clearing attempts beat Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Metivier to tie the game at 14:24.

Just 35 seconds later, the Thunderbirds took the lead when Youssef Chaouachi beat Gennaro from the right circle glove side moments after a Hearst turnover.

Raphael Lajuenesse tied the game again for the Lumberjacks when he beat Metivier with a backhand from the left circle with 1:55 to go in the second period.

Metivier finished the night with 53 saves for the Thunderbirds while Gennaro stopped 38 at the other end.

With the series win, the Thunderbirds will be the NOJHL representative at the Centennial Cup. The team will open round robin action at the 11-day event on May 19 when they face the Saskatchewan League’s Flin Flon Bombers.