SUDBURY, Ont. – The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League champion Soo Thunderbirds are in Estevan, Sask., and are gearing up to open up play Thursday at the Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons.
Here’s a look at the Thunderbirds heading into the 10-team event:
HOW THEY ARRIVED: Playoff success saw the Sault Ste. Marie side roll to the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy final by sweeping both the Blind River Beavers and the rival Soo Eagles in a pair of best-of-seven sets that went the minimum.
In the league championship series, they roared back from a 3-0 deficit, against the Hearst Lumberjacks, to win the final four contests and take the title.
This included pulling out a trio of one-goal victories in the last three match-ups, that featured Game 6 & 7 being decided in overtime.
PLAYOFF NUMBERS: Postseason play saw forward Michael Chaffay pace the Thunderbirds offensively with a team-high 12-tallies and 23 points.
That also saw Chaffay share the NOJHL lead in playoff scoring.
Next on the squad was league MVP Cooper Foster, who played at over a point-per-game clip with 17 in 15 outings on eight goals and nine assists.
Also finishing in the Top 10 in playoff scoring were Kelsey Ouellet, Kaden Dundas and Brock Santa Maria, who finished with 14, 14 and 13 points respectively.
Santa Maria, the Soo captain, finished in style, getting goals in each of the final four match-ups in the final, including notching the game-winner in overtime in Game 7. Of note, his three deciding tallies tied him for top spot among all skaters in the playoffs.
The Soo’s Dundas paced all NOJHL defenceman in the postseason with his 14 points.
They also got solid production on the back-end from Mason Chitaroni and Andrew Gibson.
Chitaroni proved 12 points while Gibson had 11.
In goal, NOJHL Playoff MVP Noah Metivier posted an 8-2 record, including being credited with 191 stops in the seven-game final alone.
He paced all league netminders in playoff goals-against average (2.08), was third in save percentage (.928) and posted one shutout.
The Thunderbirds other goaltender, Noah Zeppa, went 4-1 in the playoffs and had a GAA of 2.04.
REGULAR SEASON PRODUCTION: The highly-touted Thunderbirds were solid from top to bottom during the regular season.
Having not lost in their final 18 contests heading into the playoffs, Sault Ste. Marie boasted the NOJHL’s most valuable player, top defenceman and best goaltender, among those on their roster.
Even more impressive is all three of those league-award winners were rookies.
MVP Cooper Foster paced the Thunderbirds offensively with 60 points, in just 38 games, on 18 goals and 42 assists.
That placed him fifth overall in NOJHL offensive numbers while his 27 power play points putting him second among all players in the NOJHL.
The league’s top defenceman, Andrew Gibson, also had a very solid initial campaign.
He led all blueliners in both tallies and points with 21 and 30 respectively while his 30 points collected while the Soo were on a man advantage were the most of any skater in the league.
Thunderbirds’ captain Brock Santa Maria also played at a point-per-game pace for his hometown side with 42 in 41 contests with a career single-season high 13 tallies and 29 helpers.
Boasting that solid tandem between the pipes, Metivier and Zeppa finished one-two respectively in the league in terms of goals-against average at 1.88 and 2.07.
Metivier also paced the pack in save percentage at .922 and tied for the league-lead in shutouts, with a franchise single-season record six.
Zeppa meanwhile was fifth with a .912 save mark and had one shutout.
Overall, the Soo allowed the fewest goals-against in the entire league at 101, 23 less than their nearest competitor.
T-BIRDS TIDBITS: This will be the Thunderbirds third appearance in the national Jr. A championship in the past decade. … They also competed in the 2012 and 2015 events after winning the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Jr. A titles those same two years. … At one point in the regular season and playoffs, the Soo had a tremendous 26-game winning streak, that ran from February 5 to May 1. … The Thunderbirds main roster features 13 players, who hail from Sault Ste. Marie. … The club’s head coach, Cole Jarrett, is also from the Soo.
NAMES & NUMBERS:
GAME SCHEDULE: The Thunderbirds will have four round robin contests at the Centennial Cup in an effort to make the playoff round.
Thursday, May 19 vs. Flin Flon Bombers (SJHL) 6 p.m. ET.
Flin Flon are the SJHL finalists, who dropped a hard-fought seven-game Saskatchewan final to the Centennial Cup host Estevan Bruins.
Head coach: Mike Reagan
Regular season record: 34-21-2-1 (5th overall)
Playoff record: 11-7
Drew Kuzma, (F)
GP: 18 G: 9 A: 8 PTS: 17 (Playoffs)
Zak Smith, (F)
GP: 18 G: 9 A: 8 PTS: 17 (Playoffs)
Xavier Lapointe, (D)
GP: 58 G: 19 A: 31 PTS: 50 (Regular season)
GP: 18 W: 11 L: 7 AVG.: 2.13 SV%: .934 SO: 2 (Playoffs)
GP: 41 W: 25 L: 12 OT/SL: 2 AVG.: 2.39 SV%: .923 SO: 7 (Regular season)
Friday, May 20 vs. Summerside Western Capitals (MHL) 6 p.m. ET
Summerside are the Maritime Junior Hockey League title holders, after the they dropped the Truro Bearcats, four games to one, in the MHL final.
Head coach: Billy McGuigan
Regular season record: 31-4-3-0 (1st overall)
Playoff record: 12-2
Aaron Brown, (F)
GP: 14 G: 7 A: 17 PTS (Playoffs)
Colby MacArthur, (F)
GP: 18 A: 57 PTS: 75 (Regular season)
GP: 14 W: 12 L: 2 AVG: 1.91 SV%: .921 SO: 2 (Playoffs)
GP: 24 W: 13 L: 8 OT/SL: 1 AVG: 3.10 SV%: .902 SO: 2 (Regular season)
Monday, May 23 vs. Ottawa Jr. A Senators (CCHL) 2 p.m. ET
The Jr. A Senators swept the Hawkesbury Hawks in four straight in the CCHL championship series.
Head coach: Kyle Makaric
Regular season record: 43-8-2-2 (1st overall)
Playoff record: 12-1
Julian Recine, (F)
GP: 13 G: 7 A: 12 PTS: 19 (Playoffs)
Philippe Jacques, (F)
GP: 52 G: 31 A: 45 PTS: 76 (Regular season)
GP: 12 W: 12 L: 1 AVG: 1.55 SV%: .943 SO: 3(Playoffs)
GP: 35 W: 27 L: 5 OT/SL: 0 AVG.: 2.05 SV%: .927 SO: 3 (Regular season)
Wednesday, May 26 vs. Dauphin Kings (MJHL) 6 p.m. ET
Dauphin punched their ticket to the Centennial following a thrilling 2-1 Game 7 road victory over the Steinbach Huskies to claim the crown in Manitoba.
Head coach: Doug Hedley
Regular season record: 41-12-1-0 (2nd overall)
Playoff record: 12-6
Kaden Bryant, (F)
GP: 18 G: 8 A: 9 PTS: 17 (Playoffs)
GP: 54 G: 36 A: 39 PTS: 75 (Regular season)
GP: 18 W: 12 L: 6 AVG: 2.32 SV%: .923 SO: 1 (Playoffs)
GP: 38 W: 30 L: 7 OT/SL: 0 AVG: 2.21 SV%: .921 SO: 6 (Regular season)
WHERE TO WATCH: All Centennial Cup round robin, quarter-final and semifinal games will be streamed, for free, via the Hockey Canada website:
As the game approaches, simply click on the WATCH link to view all the action.
The Centennial Cup championship game will be broadcast live, Sunday, May 29 on TSN.