Soo Thunderbirds goalie Alex Bugeja sprawls to no avail, unable to keep Blind River’s Nick Jameus from scoring on a penalty shot in the opening period of Friday’s NOJHL regular season opener at John Rhodes Community Centre. Jameus is a Sault native.
Different season, different game.
The Soo Thunderbirds had beaten the Blind River Beavers handily twice during the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s preseason.
But the Beavers did a U-turn on Friday, stopping the T-Birds 4-2 in the COVID-19 delayed, regular season opener for both at John Rhodes Community Centre.
“We absolutely got outworked,” said T-Birds associate coach Jeremy Stevenson, who ran the team with head coach Denny Lambert absent due to work commitments. “Our work ethic was suspect.”
Meantime, Beavers head coach and general manager Kyle Brick spoke of how “we played a complete game (Friday). Everyone was good from the goalie out.”
The teams are slated to wrap up their home-and-home weekend series on Saturday, squaring off in a 7 p.m. start at Blind River Community Centre.
With the Beavers leading 2-1 on Friday, Sault native Nick Jameus scored on a penalty shot at 15:36 of the opening period, making it 3-1.
It proved to be the game-winning goal.
“That was awesome,” Jameus said, after skating in and lifting a backhand shot over the glove-hand of T-Birds netminder Alex Bugeja. “It felt great to get our first win.”
“That goal was huge for us,” added Brick. “And I thought Nick Jameus was our best player tonight.”
Jameus finished with a goal and an assist while Teegan Dumont, Jared Dupuis, on a redirection in front of Bugeja, and Lucas Adams had the other Blind River goals.
Connor Toms notched a goal and an assist, while fellow rookie Michael Chaffay, on a 5-on-3 power play, was the other Soo shooter to beat Beavers netminder Wyatt Courchaine.
Blind River held a 41-38 shots advantage.
The Soo won the exhibition games by scores of 6-1 in the Sault and 7-4 in Blind River.
Asked what his team did differently in the regular season opener, Jameus talked about how the Beavers “worked harder than we did in the preseason games and we executed our plays better.”
Stevenson, a former NHLer who played for the Soo Greyhounds during the 1993-94 Ontario Hockey League season, talked about how the Thunderbirds “lost a lot of battles for the puck” on Friday.
“We also lost a lot of face-offs, especially in key moments,” he added.
Part of the problem, Stevenson acknowledged, was the excitement that goes along with opening night.
“Our guys wanted to go, go, go. But we didn’t think about the things we should be doing,” Stevenson added.
With the Beavers leading 3-1, Toms scored late in the opening period to trim the Soo’s deficit to 3-2 after 20 minutes.
The goal by Adams, 8:08 into the second period, capped the scoring.