Despite the result, there were a lot of good things to take away from the third game of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season for the Soo Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Blind River Beavers on Saturday night at the John Rhodes Community Centre, but it was a game in which the Thunderbirds will look to build on further.
“It was exciting,” said Thunderbirds coach Denny Lambert. “It was a really good game. We out-chanced them and outshot them. We had our chances, especially 5-on-4.
“Overall, we played really well,” Lambert added.
Saturday’s contest continued what the team feels is an upward trend for the Thunderbirds through three games.
“Tonight, we executed a lot of the things we talked about,” Lambert said. “(The players) did a good job executing the game plan and the effort was 100 per cent. I can’t ask for anything more as a coach. We just didn’t get the bounces.”
Blind River defenceman Nathan Balkwill had the shootout winner in the contest, but it came after the Thunderbirds thought they had put themselves in a position to put some added pressure on the Beaver blueliner to score.
Prior to Balkwill’s shootout winner in the eighth round of the shootout, Tyson Doucette looked to make a move on Beavers goaltender Wyatt Courchaine before scoring on a backhand in tight.
The goal was waved off as the officials determined Doucette lost control of the puck before scoring on the subsequent chance.
Lambert said the referees told him the initial move nullified the backhand that beat Courchaine.
With the new rules in place with hitting taken out of the game for the time being due to the pandemic, Lambert has been happy with the adjustments the players have made to the new rules.
“Before, there was a lot more swinging, you just swing by or do a fly-by to check the guy and if you didn’t get him, you just make a big swing,” Lambert said.
“Now we’re making that adjustment where we’re stopping on pucks and we’re coming up and creating a lot more,” Lambert added. “We did a really good job on the offensive forecheck in forcing turnovers all night.”
After a scoreless opening period, the Thunderbirds opened the scoring just under six minutes into the second.
Rookie forward Michael Chaffay found himself with room in the slot and one-timed a feed from Cooper Smyl below the goal line after a turnover behind the Beavers net to make it 1-0 Thunderbirds.
Lucas Adams got Blind River on the board later in the frame as he converted a back-door pass from Noah Minns just two seconds after the expiration of a Thunderbirds penalty.
A goal by Devin Mauro with 96 seconds to go in the second period gave Blind River a 2-1 lead heading into the third. Mauro scored on a loose puck at the top of the crease during a scramble in front of Sault goaltender Alex Bugeja.
Midway through the third period, a pair of Blind River penalties, including a major to Adams for head contact, gave the Thunderbirds a 5-on-3 for two full minutes.
The Thunderbirds couldn’t capitalize on the two-man advantage, but with eight seconds to go in the major penalty, Brock Santa Maria took a feed from Caleb Wood and beat Courchaine to tie the game.
Courchaine made 44 saves in regulation time and stopped seven Thunderbirds shooters in the shootout.
Bugeja made 35 saves for the Thunderbirds in regulation time.
Jacob Doucette assisted on a pair of goals for the Thunderbirds while Minns had a pair of helpers for Blind River.
The two clubs return to action on Sunday afternoon in a 2 p.m. start at the Blind River Community Centre.
The Thunderbirds see the short turnaround as a good thing as the team looks to snap a three-game losing skid to start the season.
“We want to get right back at it,” Lambert said. “Nobody wants to lose three in a row, especially when you’re playing as hard as they are.”