Being a young player in junior hockey is about learning and for the Soo Thunderbirds, it’s about the young players learning quickly that junior hockey isn’t an easy level to play at.
After starting the season with a pair of wins on the opening weekend of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season, the team has dropped three straight games, including a 3-1 loss to the Rayside-Balfour Canadians on Wednesday night at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
Facing a short bench, the Thunderbirds played the game with 14 skaters and the young roster struggled in the contest.
It’s a situation that Thunderbirds coach John Parco hopes will be a learning situation for the group.
“It’s a lot of video and a lot of showing mistakes and teaching positioning and the little things in hockey that a lot of them haven’t learned,” Parco said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
In the midst of the tough stretch, Parco preached patience.
“There’s a lot of teaching going on,” Parco said. “Sometimes I think there’s a lot, maybe too much, on their minds to handle. You have to be delicate with it and you have to be patient.”
After a scoreless opening period, the two teams traded goals in the second period.
Avery Rebek opened the scoring for the Thunderbirds early in the second period as he jumped on a loose puck in tight 1:43 into the frame.
Matthew Belanger tied the game for the Canadians as he capitalized on a turnover midway through the period and beat Thunderbirds goaltender Colin Ahern from the left circle.
The Canadians took the lead in the third period as Oliver Smith beat Ahern from the right circle on a shot that got through a Thunderbirds defender on its way to the net to make the score 2-1.
Nicholas DeGrazia capped off the scoring with an empty net goal in the final minute of play.
Ahern finished the night with 30 saves for the Thunderbirds while his counterpart, David Bowen, made 36 saves for the Canadians.
Rayside-Balfour has now won three straight games and improves to 3-2-0-0 to start the season.
Out of the lineup for the Thunderbirds were defenceman Kevin Parra-Vaughan and forward Matt Bazarin, who were both serving one-game suspensions. Daniel Bazarin was serving the second game of a three-game suspension and Tyler Savard sat out as he served the third game of a nine-game suspension.
The Thunderbirds return to action on Saturday night as the team opens up a home-and-home series with the Soo (Mich.) Eagles at Pullar Stadium in the Michigan Sault. The two clubs then meet at the John Rhodes Community Centre on Sunday night in a 7 p.m. start to cap off the weekend set.