Border Battle Round One

By Randy Russon – Hockey News North

Round one went to the reigning champs on Friday as the Soo Thunderbirds upended the visiting Soo Eagles 5-2 in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular-season opener for the cross-border rivals.

To be sure, the Pullar will offer more of close-knit, feel-for-the game atmosphere than the Essar Centre, which was home to Friday’s season opener. With more than 4,000 empty seats at the Essar for Friday’s Thunderbirds-Eagles tilt, the arena bore resemblance to a sleepy ghost town.

At any rate, the Thunderbirds took advantage of some sub-par goaltending by Jack Hickey of the Eagles en route to the season-opening victory. Simply put, the 20-year old Hickey did not keep the Eagles in the game, allowing at least three goals that should have been stopped.

Five different players scored goals for the Thunderbirds but it was the work of twin brothers Darian Pilon and Drake Pilon that stood out for the winners.

The devilish duo combined for five assists and had Eagle defenders off balance for a good part of the game.

The twin terrors, who have 1998 birth dates, just arrived back home after a strong showing at the Ontario Hockey League camp of the Sudbury Wolves. The Pilon boys were among the last players cut and earned plenty of praise from Wolves general manager Barclay Branch, who said he will be closely monitoring the progress of the feisty forwards as they develop with the Thunderbirds.

The Eagles, back in the NOJHL after three seasons in the North American Hockey League, played the Thunderbirds even after falling behind 3-1.

There was no lack of effort on the part of the Eagles, who got one of their goals from 1997 birth-year centre Jake Palmerio, a Soo, Ont. product who made his NOJHL debut against his hometown team.

With basically an all-rookie NOJHL lineup, the Eagles are in good hands with the age-old, bench battery of co-coaches Bruno Bragagnolo and Jim Capy and figure to be in the thick of the West Division race this season.