The first weekend of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season is in the books for the Soo Thunderbirds.
With just a handful of returning players, the team picked up a pair of wins on home ice to start the season, including a 3-1 win over the Espanola Express on Sunday night at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
The Thunderbirds scored once in each period in the win, which saw the home side outshoot the Express 44-25.
“It’s one of those games where if you capitalize on some chances early in the game, it probably gets a little bit carried away and we probably could have potted a lot more goals than we did,” said Thunderbirds coach John Parco.
Espanola goaltender Andrew Rocha was solid in the game, making 41 saves.
“He made some unbelievable stops,” Parco said.
Jacob Kovacs and Daniel Bazarin had a goal and an assist each for the Thunderbirds while Matthew Bazarin also scored.
Goaltender Dakota Meyer got the start for the Thunderbirds and made 24 saves.
Bradley Brunet had the lone goal for the Express.
The Thunderbirds penalty kill got off to a good start on opening weekend, which included a 7-2 win over the Soo (Mich.) Eagles on Saturday night.
The Thunderbirds surrendered just one power play goal on the weekend as the Eagles went 1-for-6 while the Express were 0-for-6 on Sunday night.
“It was really good considering we just started working on it a couple of days ago,” Parco said. “We’ve got guys like Cam Findlay, who killed penalties for us all of last year. He leads the way and works with the guys. We used four 16-year-olds to penalty kill and they’re picking it up really quick.”
For the Thunderbirds, the start to the season is one that Parco feels was a good one.
“Overall, I’m happy with the first weekend,” Parco said.
“We’ve got a good group of kids and they’re having fun and they’re sticking together and playing the way we’re asking of them,” Parco also said. “Mistakes are going to happen, but they’re trying to play the way we as a staff want them to play and that really stuck out.”
The Thunderbirds return to action on Sept. 13 on the road in the first game of a home-and-home set with the Blind River Beavers that wraps up the following night in Sault Ste. Marie.