By Randy Russon – Sault This Week
The border battle resumes with two more rounds this weekend.
Cross-river rivals, the reigning Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League champion Soo Thunderbirds will face off with the Michigan-based Soo Eagles in a home-and-home series.
The Eagles will play host to the Thunderbirds on Friday night at Pullar Stadium. The Thunderbirds will return the favour and usher in the Eagles on Saturday night at the Essar Centre.
Both games are slated to begin at 7:30.
The two teams have already met twice thus far this 2015-2016 season and the Thunderbirds won both games — 5-2 at the Essar and 6-3 at the Pullar. In both losses, Eagles goalies let in what can be termed soft goals — three in each game, as a matter of fact.
While there are factions on both teams that get along with one another off the ice, the same cannot be said when the Thunderbirds and Eagles step onto the ice against one another.
Thunderbirds president-director of hockey operations Kevin Cain said there is no question that the rivalry is an intense one.
Speaking on a recent edition of the Hockey North Show that I host on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. on ESPN 1400 Radio, Cain made it clear that there is no love lost between the Thunderbirds and the Eagles.
“There is a mutual respect, I do believe, between the two teams,” Cain began, “but the fact of the matter is, we don’t like them and they don’t like us.”
Having said that, Cain noted that “It’s great” that the Eagles are back in the NOJHL after three seasons in the North American Hockey League.
In the two previous seasons before departing for the NAHL, the Eagles and Thunderbirds rotated as NOJHL champions.
The Eagles won the 2010-2011 NOJHL title and the Thunderbirds took the 2011-2012 championship.
There are those who were part of both teams then who are still around.
Bruno Bragagnolo was coach-general manager of the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 Eagles teams — titles he still holds for the 2015-2016 squad.
And the aforementioned Cain was with the Thunderbirds teams of 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 — just as he is still with the 2015-2016 edition.
So too is Jamie Henderson still with the Thunderbirds, having moved up in the organization over the past five years from assistant coach to assistant general manager to general manager.
Then there is the Jim Capy factor.
Capy has coached in the NOJHL over parts of the past three decades. The veteran Capy previously coached the Thunderbirds, Blind River Beavers and erstwhile Soo Indians — and is now co-coach of the Eagles alongside Bragagnolo.
Add to the fact that Capy coached a few Thunderbirds rookies with the champion Soo Thunderbirds of the Great North Midget Hockey League in 2014-2015 — and the rivalry between the cross-border foes is further fuelled.
As NOJHL veterans of the coach-management ranks, elder statesmen Cain, Bragagnolo and Capy not only have multiple years of experience and success, they also are high on the league’s respect ladder.
It says here that the continuation of the Thunderbirds-Eagles rivalry this weekend will no doubt serve as crowd-pleasing games. Over the years and over so many games, I cannot recall a Thunderbirds-Eagles matchup that did not contain high-wire action and drama — with a nasty taste to spice things up.
Thunderbirds v. Eagles: Coming to a pair of rinks close to home.