By Randy Russon – Hockey News North
Let’s begin by stating that the Soo Thunderbirds were easily the better team in scoring a 4-0 win over the shorthanded Soo Eagles on Saturday.
Simply put, the injury-riddled Eagles were no match for the Thunderbirds, who improved their record to 9-1 atop the West Division of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League with the home-ice victory.
But it’s the manner in which the last few minutes of the game was played that produced points to ponder.
Leading by the 4-0 score and with 5:45 to play in the third period, Thunderbirds winger Matt Mitchell and Eagles front-liner Kendall Huckins got into a bit of a scuffle that resulted in minor penalties for both players.
While seated in the penalty box, Mitchell had plenty to say to Huckins and at one point, stood up and made a motion towards the Eagles player.
Nothing further developed and both players vacated the penalty box with 3:45 to play and headed to their respective players bench.
On the next shift, Mitchell headed back on to the ice and attempted to instigate an altercation with another Eagles player but to no avail.
Twice more, Mitchell returned to the ice in the final two minutes and tried to start something with an Eagles player only to have both skate away.
I am not sure why Mitchell was so intent on trying to stir up what had been such a tame game with only seven minor penalties called prior to his tussle with Huckins.
And I am not sure why Thunderbirds head coach Jordan Smith continued to send Mitchell out on to the ice when it was rather obvious what the third-year player was trying to do despite the fact that his team had the 4-0 win in the bag.
What I am fairly sure of is that NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca — who was seated beside me at the game — was not impressed.
The way I see it, there is a way to win and there is a way to act when you win.
I am not sure what Smith and the 6-foot, 235-pound, 20-year old Mitchell were trying to prove in the late stages of a certain victory over a rookie-laden Eagles team that was minus four regulars due to injury, including rugged captain Jake Hernandez.
To me, all that Smith and Mitchell succeeded in doing was to put themselves on the radar of Mazzuca, the no-nonsense commissioner who is on an ongoing mission to reduce stupidity and eliminate bullying from within the NOJHL.
As for the game itself, the Thunderbirds were in full control from the opening faceoff and out-shot the visiting Eagles 40-19 in cruising to their fourth victory in as many starts over their cross-border rivals.
Rookie forward Drake Pilon scored a pair of goals and his twin brother Darian Pilon had a pair of assists in support of the 19-save effort of goalie Brandon Gordon, who was not tested with any severity by the Eagles, who do not have a single player who had NOJHL experience before this season.
The loss for the Eagles dropped their record to 1-6-1 and was their fourth straight setback, during which they have managed to score only two goals.
Soo Thunderbirds made it three straight wins over their border rivals on Friday with a 3-1 road triumph over the Soo Eagles before close to 750 fans at venerable Pullar Stadium.
The win for the Thunderbirds improved their record atop the West Division of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League to 8-1.
With the loss, the first-year, expansion-team Eagles dropped to 1-5-1.
The two teams will face off for the fourth time of the young NOJHL season tonight in a 7:30 start time match at the Essar Centre.
Matt Mitchell, Matt Busby and rookie Drake Pilon scored for the T-Birds, who got 30 saves from Nathan Warren in Friday’s victory.
Ryan Morse scored the lone goal for the Eagles.