Tillsonburg Thunder ‘knocked the rust off’ Saturday to double Petrolia Squires 6-3 in their WOAA senior men’s hockey home opener.
There were some new faces both in the Thunder lineup and on the bench, including head coach Rob Hutchison.
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“Good core guys are back,” said Hutchison, who was a Thunder assistant coach a couple years ago and a former junior hockey coach. “Some new faces, which add to the depth of the lineup. And with guys busy with work, good depth in the lineup is really going to help us – and that’s really what we need right now.”
The Thunder rolled four lines and six defencemen Saturday, plus 3-4 players who did not dress for the season opener.
“Hopefully we’ll add another defencemen still,” said Hutchison. “Hopefully we’ll have seven D and keep the 4-5 lines as guys rotate in, and guys working.
“Good depth,” he nodded. “We’ve got guys who are sitting out that… It’s tough to make a scratch because the lineup’s that deep.”
Only 1-2 games into the regular season, Hutchison said it’s still early to be looking at the WOAA standings or where they the Thunder might slot in. For now, he said, it’s about ‘guys buying into a system.’
“They’ve all played at a high level of hockey. It’s just a matter of coming up with a system that everybody agrees upon and we stick to it.”
On Saturday, following a ceremonial puck drop with Quintyn Ketchabaw, the Thunder took a 4-1 lead through two periods.
“We worked real hard, strong out of the gate,” said Hutchison. “We got some good shots, good attempts early on.”
Petrolia fought back in the third, scoring twice, but Tillsonburg replied with a late goal and an empty-netter in the final minute to seal a 6-3 victory.
“We didn’t really run out of gas, but you could see that maybe we had to really come back and finish off strong again. All around, a good solid effort from everybody.”
So far, he likes the team chemistry.
“The guys are vocal in the room, guys like Staffie (Scott Stafford), Tree (Ryan Stephenson), those guys. Some guys are silent, and they bring that with them, but some guys are nice and vocal and positive. That’s the main thing, being more positive right now and carrying us through.”
Stafford is a player coach this year, a first for Hutchison and the Thunder.
“He (Stafford) and I are on the same wave length. He’ll interject on the bench, and maybe throw a couple guys out for penalty kill just because he sees something a little bit different. And that’s fine with me. I’m pretty flexible and these guys have played a lot of high-level hockey so it’s just a matter of getting on the same page as them. It’s not all about me, it’s about 20-some guys. That’s what we have to be as a group – come together as a group – and we’ll be successful.”