With the season winding down for the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Soo Thunderbirds, head coach Denny Lambert feels as though the team has found their identity as the COVID Cup with the Blind River Beavers winds down.
On the heels of an 8-1 victory over the Beavers on Thursday night on home ice, the Thunderbirds picked up a 5-1 win on Saturday night in game six of the seven-game series between the two clubs at the Blind River Community Centre.
The Thunderbirds scored four times in the second period, which included a pair of tallies by veteran forward Caleb Wood en route to the win.
“It took the first period to get our legs going and once we got our legs going, it was where we were really playing our style,” Lambert said. “Over the course of the last little bit here, they’ve found their team identity and what they could be. They played a very strong two-way game, scoring goals and playing really solid defensively. It’s been a messed up season (due to COVID, but they know who they are right now, which is a great sign.”
Wood opened the scoring in the second period 63 seconds into the frame when he beat Beavers goaltender Gavin Disano with a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle through a Blind River defender.
Just over five minutes later, Andrew Malek extended the lead, beating Disano with a shot from the left circle stick side.
The Thunderbirds would go up 3-0 at 14:16 of the second when Noah Boman went to the net and redirected a pass from Wood high stick side on Disano.
Wood proceeded to make it 4-0 as he scored his ninth goal of the season on a shot from the slot after taking a feed from Boman at 17:02.
Jacob Kelly got Blind River’s lone goal in the contest in the final minute of the second period when he converted a give-and-go with Noah Minns on the power play and beat Thunderbirds goaltender Alex Bugeja.
Defenceman Cam Dutkiewicz capped off the scoring for the Thunderbirds with an empty net goal late in the third period.
“They played outstanding,” Lambert said of the final 40 minutes of the contest. “Offensively, they were attacking with speed and cycling with speed, controlling it down low. Defensively, they came back with five in the picture and that’s what you want to see as a coach. Usually, if you see the five (players) in the picture backchecking defensively, your team is working extremely hard for you.”
The Thunderbirds outshot the Beavers 43-22 over the final two periods.
Disano made 44 saves in the game while Bugeja made 33 at the other end.
In addition to his goal, Dutkiewicz assisted on a pair of Sault goals.
The COVID Cup is set to wrap up between the two clubs on Sunday at the John Rhodes Community Centre. Puck drop is set for 2 p.m.
“The biggest thing is to be honest with each other and play for each other because that’s what they’ve been playing for this long,” Lambert said of the message heading into Sunday’s game. “There’s not a ton of fans in the buildings. We’re not playing for a Canadian championship, but they’re playing for a COVID Cup that they’ve been lucky and fortunate enough to be playing in. They came together as a group of guys and the biggest thing is to play for each other (on Sunday).”