Any hopes of earning a playoff spot at the Centennial Cup came to an end on Monday afternoon for the Soo Thunderbirds.
Holding an 0-2 record entering day five of action, the Thunderbirds were shut out 4-0 by the Central Canada Hockey League’s Ottawa Jr. Senators at Affinity Place in Estevan, Sask.
After a disappointing effort on Friday against the Maritime League’s Summerside Western Capitals, Thunderbirds coach Cole Jarrett saw an improvement in Monday’s contest.
“I liked our effort a lot better than the other night in terms of compete and willingness to battle,” Jarrett said. “We had a lot of guys that were giving everything they had. They laid it all out there each and every shift. It wasn’t the whole group, but there were a lot of guys that did.”
In what he felt was an improved effort, Jarrett said Monday’s result was much like the result in the tournament-opening loss to the Flin Flon Bombers.
“Each goal that (Ottawa) scored came from one of our breakdowns or missed assignments,” Jarrett said. “That’s something that a young group can learn from. At this level, especially on this stage, you have to be dialed in for 60 minutes.”
The Thunderbirds appeared to get on the board early when a shot by defenceman Andrew Gibson hit the crossbar and then deflected in off the body of an Ottawa defenceman battling with Kenny Belanger Jr. in close though the goal was waved off.
Jarrett said the explanation the Thunderbirds received was that it had been kicked in by Belanger Jr. The team didn’t dispute the call at the time though video of the goal appears the goal should have counted.
Jarrett said the call didn’t deflate the team at the time based on the confidence of the referee that the puck had been indeed kicked in on the play.
“Obviously they outshot us pretty badly, but they didn’t have anything in terms of Grade A chances,” Jarrett said of the opening period. “(Ottawa) did a good job of running their (offensive zone play) and getting pucks to the net. We had a little bit of zone time, but obviously didn’t get pucks to the net. We were right there with their pace.”
The Thunderbirds were outshot 10-1 in the opening period and Ottawa held a 20-5 shot edge through 40 minutes.
“They defend from the middle out and did a good job of not letting us get into the inside,” Jarrett said. “We were able to use the space that they were giving us, but didn’t challenge them enough on the inside of the ice to create those opportunities to get pucks to the net.”
After a scoreless opening period, Isaac Landry got Ottawa on the board just 1:45 into the middle stanza.
After taking a pass in the left faceoff circle from Jacob Code, Landry beat Thunderbirds starter Noah Metivier glove side to open the scoring.
In the opening minute of the third period, Ottawa’s Simon Isabelle made it 2-0 when he took a pass at the side of the net from Massimo Gentile below the goalline, stepped out, and slid a backhand past Metivier's 5-hole.
Vincent Velocci extended the lead to 3-0 at 10:39 when he beat Metivier with a shot from the slot stick side moments after a shot by Julian Recine from the high slot was blocked.
Isabelle capped off the scoring 1:43 later with his second of the day as he took a pass in the right circle from Gentile and beat Metivier stick side.
Isabelle and Gentile each finished the day with two points for the Jr. Senators, who got a 13-save performance from goaltender William Desmarais for the shutout.
Metivier made 26 saves for the Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds wrap up round robin action on Wednesday evening.
“We talked about building all tournament long,” Jarrett said. “We had a setback in game two and in game three kind of got back to where we were in game one. The message will be, ‘Let’s just keep building in game four. It’s our last game of the season. We’ve got Zeps (Noah Zeppa) going in goal and we need to find a way to muster up a really good effort for him and for ourselves. We’d love to go home feeling good about ourselves.
The team will face the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Dauphin Kings in a 6 p.m. (Sault time) start on the final day of the round robin at the 11-day event.
The tournament features 10 teams with the league champions from each of the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s member leagues gaining entry in addition to the host Estevan Bruins.
The teams were placed in two five-team pools with the top three teams advancing to the playoff round. The first-place teams earn an automatic semifinal berth with the remaining four teams playing in quarter-final games.
The tournament final is scheduled for Sunday.