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Late surge paces Thunderbirds to first win

Cooper Smyl, Caleb Wood, and Connor Toms had multi-point games for the Thunderbirds
2020-11-28 Thunderbirds vs. Blind River BD-NOJHL
Action from Saturday's NOJHL game between the Blind River Beavers and Soo Thunderbirds at the John Rhodes Community Centre. Photo courtesy Bob Davies/NOJHL

It took a pair of late goals for the Soo Thunderbirds to get into the win column on Sunday afternoon.

A shorthanded goal by Connor Toms was the go-ahead goal as the Thunderbirds beat the Blind River Beavers 5-3 on Sunday in Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League action at the Blind River Community Centre.

Just under two minutes into a major penalty to Parker Morgan, a turnover at the Blind River blueline led to a scoring chance for Thunderbirds forward Brock Santa Maria.

After Santa Maria couldn’t capitalize, the young forward fed Toms in the right faceoff circle where he proceeded to beat Beavers goaltender Wyatt Courchaine to give the Thunderbirds a 4-3 lead with just over four minutes to go in regulation.

Caleb Wood sealed the win with an empty net goal with 63 seconds to go in the contest.

The Thunderbirds scored three unanswered goals in the third en route to the win.

“All the credit goes to the guys in the room,” Thunderbirds coach Denny Lambert said. “They weren’t getting rewarded with any wins. They were playing well and doing a lot of good things and stuck with (the game plan) and in the third, they took it over.”

“We were shorthanded going in (to the period),” Lambert said, referencing the losses of Avery Rebek and Warner Young after a scrum at the end of the second period that led to their nights ending early. “We were short, but I give them credit. They stuck with it. They didn’t get frustrated.”

Noah Minns gave Blind River a 3-2 lead in the opening minute of the third with a power play goal,

Minns completed a three-way passing play, scoring from the slot on a feed from Lucas Adams 40 seconds into the final period.

Cooper Smyl got the Thunderbirds back on even terms in the period with a power play goal of his own just under seven minutes into the frame.

Rebek and Michael Chaffay had the other goals for the Thunderbirds.

Rebek opened the scoring 3:33 into the contest as he redirected a feed from Wood while Chaffay scored late in the second period, beating Courchaine high stick side from the right faceoff circle on a 3-on-2 break.

Jacob Kelly and Jared Dupuis had the other goals for the Beavers.

Kelly assisted Blind River’s other two goals in the game while Adams had a pair of helpers as well.

Making his second start in as many days for the Thunderbirds, Alex Bugeja made 28 saves while Courchaine stopped 24 shots for the Beavers.

Smyl and Wood finished the night with a goal and two assists each for the Thunderbirds

“Cooper has had his chances, but wasn’t getting rewarded,” Lamber said. “Today, he got rewarded. He could have had two or three points last night too. He was really good. He’s been good all season. I’m happy that he finally got rewarded. He’s been working hard. He’s been strong on faceoffs and he’s played a lot of minutes.”

Toms added one of each.

“He was zoned in,” Lambert said of the young blueliner. “Hey keyed in and got better as the game went on. For a young player like that, it’s exciting to see.”

Seeing added minutes after the Thunderbirds lost Young for the third period, Lambert was impressed with the way Toms handled the added ice time.

“A lot of younger kids, when they get tired and fatigued, they make mental mistakes and he didn’t,” Lambert said. “He was keyed in.”

Brad Coccimiglio

About the Author: Brad Coccimiglio

A graduate of Loyalist College’s Sports Journalism program, Brad Coccimiglio’s work has appeared in The Hockey News as well as online at in addition to regular freelance work with SooToday before joining the team full time.
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