2022 centennial soo thunderbirds

Road to the 2022 Centennial Cup: Soo Thunderbirds

A months-long win streak preceded a comeback for the ages and sent the NOJHL champions back to Canada’s National Junior A Championship for the third time

Jason La Rose
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May 17, 2022
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For Jamie Henderson’s four-year-old son, the math was pretty simple.

"Dad, you just have to win two, and then two more.”

But how many teams had actually come all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit to win? It’s only happened four times in NHL history, most recently in 2014 when the Los Angeles Kings beat the San Jose Sharks en route to a Stanley Cup championship.

So, the task was a daunting one for the Soo Thunderbirds, the team for which Henderson serves as general manager and assistant coach. They were faced with climbing out the massive hole against the Hearst Lumberjacks in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) final.

Hearst had stunned the Thunderbirds to open the series, earning a 6-4 win in Game 1 that ended Soo’s 26-game win streak. It doubled its advantage with a 3-2 victory thanks to a late winner, and seemingly took charge with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 3.

“The first one was a surprise. It was the second one that really kind of stunned the whole team, including the staff,” Henderson says. “Ultimately, we just weren't good enough. We lost a tough one in Game 3, and then it's really soul-searching time for everyone.”

The old hockey adage goes that you can’t win all four games at once … it has to be a focus on the next game, and only the next game.

Soo avoided elimination with a 4-2 win on the road in Game 4, and held off a third-period push in Game 5 for a 3-2 victory. Back in Hearst for Game 6, in front of a capacity crowd, the Thunderbirds got an overtime winner from Russell Oldham to send the series back to Sault Ste. Marie for a Game 7 that had seemed unlikely just a few days before.

The teams swapped goals in the second period, with Hearst twice erasing Soo leads, and playoff MVP Noah Metivier made 12 saves in the third to get the game to overtime.

There, it was Thunderbirds captain Brock Santa Maria who played the hero, knocking in the game-winner 3:26 into the extra period to give Soo a 4-3 win, a memorable NOJHL title and a place in the 2022 Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons.

“We're just going to try and go [to Estevan] and build and try to get better every day,” Henderson says. “We know that there'll be ups and downs throughout the week, and hopefully we can just kind of ride the wave and play our best hockey when it matters. We know that there's going to be some really, really good teams, but we also know that on any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

It’ll be the third trip to Canada’s National Junior A Championship in the last decade for the Thunderbirds; they finished fourth in 2012, the year they memorably upset the eventual national champion Penticton Vees in the preliminary round, and missed out on the playoffs in 2015.

Soo opens its Centennial Cup schedule against the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League representatives, the Flin Flon Bombers, on May 19.

HOW THEY GOT TO ESTEVAN

Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League
Quarterfinal: defeated Blind River 4-0 (3-2, 3-0, 4-2, 4-1)
Semifinal: defeated Soo Eagles 4-0 (3-1, 4-3 OT, 4-1, 5-2)
NOJHL championship: defeated Hearst 4-3 (4-6, 2-3, 4-5 OT, 4-2, 3-2, 4-3 OT, 3-2 OT)

REGULAR SEASON

Record (W-L-OTL): 38-5-5 (1st in NOJHL)
Goals for: 189 (3rd in NOJHL)
Goals against: 101 (1st in NOJHL)
Power play: 62 for 262 (23.7% – 2nd in NOJHL)
Penalty killing: 199 of 226 (88.1% – 1st in NOJHL)
Longest winning streak: 18 (Feb. 9-April 2)
Top 3 scorers:
• Cooper Foster – 18G 42A 60P (5th in NOJHL)
• Andrew Gibson – 21G 30A 51P (12th in NOJHL)
• Brock Santa Maria – 13G 29A 42P (22nd in NOJHL)

PLAYOFFS

Record: 12-3
Goals for: 54
Goals against: 35
Power play: 16 for 77 (20.8%)
Penalty killing: 51 of 58 (87.9%)
Top 3 scorers:
• Michael Chaffay – 12G 11A 23P
• Cooper Foster – 8G 9A 17P
• Kelsey Ouellet – 5G 9A 14P

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

2012 – Soo Thunderbirds | fourth place | 2-3 | 12GF 15GA
2015 – Soo Thunderbirds | fifth place | 0-4 | 7GF 21GA

COMMITMENTS

Alfred Rotiroti – Rivier University (2022-23)

CJHL TOP 20 RANKINGS

Oct. 4 – Honourable Mention
Oct. 11 – 19th
Oct. 18 – Honourable Mention
Oct. 25 – 18th
Nov. 1 – 13th
Nov. 8 – 9th
Nov. 15 – Honourable Mention
Nov. 22 – Honourable Mention
Nov. 29 – Honourable Mention
Dec. 6 – 19th
Dec. 13 – 17th
Dec. 20 – 15th
Feb. 7 – 18th
Feb. 14 – Honourable Mention
Feb. 21 – 10th
Feb. 28 – 9th
March 7 – 7th
March 14 – 7th
March 21 – 6th

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
dsaillant@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

 

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