Photos: Bob Davies
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – The surging Soo Thunderbirds skated to their 17th consecutive Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League victory Thursday evening as they defeated the Hearst Lumberjacks 2-1 in a hard-fought affair at John Rhodes Community Centre.
A fast-paced first frame saw the red-hot Thunderbirds open the scoring 11 and a half minutes into the proceedings as Kelsey Ouellet deftly deflected a Kyle Trottier wrist shot from the left point that skipped and over the blocker-side shoulder of Hearst goaltender Matteo Gennaro.
Going to the power play early in the second stanza, Sault Ste. Marie had a great chance to extend their lead but Cooper Foster rang one off the post while having plenty of net to shoot at.
Hearst also hit iron later in the period off a shorthanded break attempt by Tyler Patterson as he fired a shot that eluded Soo starter Noah Zeppa, but clanked off the bar and went wide.
Special teams provided the Thunderbirds a second tally late in the session when Foster sent a perfect cross-ice feed over to a hard-charging Brock Santa Maria, who quickly snapped in his 13th of the season at the 18:41 mark.
Moving to the third, the Lumberjacks power play, which was clicking at over a league-best 25% success rate, helped the visitors get on the board with 11:27 remaining in regulation.
It came about with Paterson providing some solid puck movement behind the net before feeding Zachry Demers on the right side who unleased a shot that teammate Raphael Lajeunesse got just enough of to help elude Zeppa.
Featuring plenty of playoff-type intensity throughout the contest, the clubs traded chances right to the final buzzer, but in the end, is was the Soo who prevailed to keep their winning streak in tact.
Zeppa won for a 10th straight start, helping the Thunderbirds improve to 37-5-2-3 overall.
In defeat, the Lumberjacks dropped to 34-10-2-0 on the season.