Thunderbirds blank Beavers in season opener

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Photo: Crystal Serre

First game, first win and first shutout!

That’s the way the Soo Thunderbirds opened up their 2021-2022 regular season on Saturday night against the Blind River Beavers.

The Thunderbirds, who played game one of their regular season on Saturday night in Blind River, blanked the home team Blind River Beavers by a score of 7-0 at the Blind River Community Centre.

“It was a big win tonight for sure,” said Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett. “The boys played the right way for 60 minutes and we were rewarded with the win. Zeppa was also great in net for us and I think he gave the boys a lot of confidence.”

First-year head coach Cole Jarrett, who made his NOJHL debut behind the bench with the Thunderbirds, also picked up his first career NOJHL win.

“It feels great to get a win anytime, but with it being my first as a head coach is definitely special,” Jarrett said.

On Saturday night, Thunderbirds second-year forward Tyson Doucette found the back of the net three times, including once on the power play, giving him his first career NOJHL hat trick.

Doucette also became the first Thunderbird to record a hat trick in a season opening game since Nic Sicoly and Nick Tassone both did back on September 14, 2014.

That day (September 14, 2014), the Thunderbirds defeated the Blind River Beavers by a score of 12-1 at the John Rhodes Community Centre, and then went on to win their third Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy followed by their second Dudley Hewitt Cup title at the end of the season.

“Tyson put in a lot of work during the offseason, so it’s no surprise that he got off to a quick start tonight,” Jarrett said. “His whole line also played well tonight and it paid off on the scoresheet.”

Rookie forward Kenny Belanger Jr. also had a big night offensively for the Thunderbirds with a power play goal and an assist while Connor Healy (power play), Christian Howanitz (power play) and Brock Santa Maria all found the back of the net once.

Defenceman Kaden Dundas and forwards Russell Oldham and Colby Arbour also all got on the scoresheet for the Thunderbirds with one assist each.

Beavers second-year netminder Gavin Disano gave up 7 goals on 38 shots in the loss while Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Zeppa made 17 saves for the shutout.

Zeppa, who stopped all 17 shots in his Thunderbird debut, became the first Thunderbird goalie to record a shutout in a season opening game since Ryan Dube did back on September 12, 2008.

That day (September 12, 2008), the Thunderbirds also defeated the Blind River Beavers by a score of 7-0 at the John Rhodes Community Centre, and then went on to win their first Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy at the end of the season.

“Obviously it’s a huge honour looking back at so many talented goalies who have been in the Thunderbirds organization, but I have to give credit to the guys in front of me who made my job pretty easy,” said Thunderbirds goaltender Noah Zeppa. “Still a long season ahead and this game is now behind us, but it’s always great to get the first shutout out of the way.”

With the win, the Thunderbirds have now opened up their regular season with a win and no losses while the Beavers have opened up their season in the opposite direction with no wins and one loss.

The last time the Beavers lost a season opening game, was back on September 11, 2015, when they dropped a 7-1 decision to the Elliot Lake Wildcats in Elliot Lake.

The next game for the Thunderbirds will be on Friday, September 24 at 7:30 p.m., when they take on the Blind River River Beavers in their home opener at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

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