If only they could have generated more offense. A timely goal or two and the Soo Thunderbirds might have won a game or two at the well-played, four-team, minor midget hockey tournament that was held in Sault Ste. Marie on the weekend.
Spectacular performances by both of their goalies, Noah Zeppa and Tyler Greco, kept the local minor midgets close in all four of the games they played.
But it was an inability to sustain much in the way of offense that was the difference as the Soo lost to the Thunder Bay Kings 2-1, tied the Sudbury Wolves 1-1 and was upended by the North Bay Trappers 3-1 in the round-robin portion of the event.
Then came a 1-0 loss to North Bay in a semi-final match in which Zeppa kept the Soo close with a remarkable display of net-minding that included a save total that surpassed 50.
Zeppa, whose bloodlines include being a cousin to left winger Nicholas Porco, who was a first-round pick of the Saginaw Spirit at the 2017 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft, allowed just two goals in the two full games that he played. And his net mate, Greco, gave up only five goals in the two matches in which he tended twine.
When a team gives up only seven goals in four games, one would think there would be at least a victory or two in the process. But the Thunderbirds were able to score only three goals in four games and that lack of offense is what kept the Soo win-less in the tournament.
Still, there was much to like at the tournament with regard to a Soo squad that earlier had posted a regular-season record of 2-18-4 within the Great North Midget Hockey League.
Zeppa and Greco stood out between the pipes. As did a troika of defensemen.
6-foot-3 defender Nate Headrick, who missed most of the 2017-2018 season on the injured list, certainly turned a few heads with his play. Headrick is a younger — but bigger — brother of Owen Headrick, who is a high-scoring overage defenseman with the OHL’s Erie Otters.
Another blue-liner, the solidly-built, 5-foot-11 Mateo Perri, is a growing kid who improved tremendously over the course of the season, gaining from the structure of meaningful practices and his own apparent willingness to advance his game to a higher level.
And on a team of players with 2002 birth dates, the baby Bird of the Soo showed plenty of poise and promise.
2003 birth-year defenseman Jack Matier is not eligible for the OHL priority selections draft until 2019 but the skilled, mobile defender with the right-hand shot and good size looms as a plum prospect.
The only player with a 2003 birth date on the Soo minor midgets, the 6-foot-1, Matier has hockey bloodlines traced to his dad, Mark Matier, who was no slouch himself as a rangy defenseman who played big minutes for the 1993 Memorial Cup champion Soo Greyhounds.
To be sure, a 2017-2018 campaign that included only two league victories in 24 outings was one that was not defined by wins.
And while the Soo midgets ended the term with an 0-3-1 record at a tournament that included Great North colleagues from Sudbury and North Bay as well as Thunder Bay, which represented Hockey Northwestern Ontario, the Thunderbirds were at least able to hold their own.
Giving up just seven goals in four games at the season-ending tournament is a statement in itself.
And maybe, just maybe, there are a few OHL scouts and general managers who do their home work and make their own judgements and don’t just look at the win-loss record, numbers and old boys club scuttlebutt when assessing some of the under-rated talent on the Soo squad.
PHOTO: Soo Thunderbirds, in action against the Thunder Bay Kings, on the weekend. Soo players from left to right are Nate Headrick, Tyler Greco and Mateo Perri. (Photo by Allana Plaunt.)