The Halifax Thunderbirds broke a franchise record during their home opener on Friday night. They beat the Philadelphia Wings 18-8, which is the most goals the team has scored since moving to Halifax from Rochester in 2019.
“Eighteen is a lot of goals, and I think it’s just sharing that ball and no one really wanting to get their goal, it was getting a goal for the team, getting the best shot for the team and I think that’s what led to all those goals,” says Thunderbirds forward Clarke Petterson, who scored four goals and four assists for a game-high eight points.
Six Thunderbirds scored at least six points – Petterson, Cody Jamieson, Chris Boushy, Ryan Benesch, Randy Staats and Eric Fannell.
However, the biggest story of the game was the emergent comeback of Randy Staats. The star scorer hasn’t played an NLL game since March 8, 2020. The rest of that season was cancelled, the pandemic cancelled the following year and Staats missed all last season with a torn right ACL. It was 999 days between NLL games, and he didn’t waste time coming back. He scored a goal, added six assists and had a game-high 16 shots.
“To come back knowing the work I put in to get back from this injury, tonight it paid off,” says Staats. “Especially offensively, we were moving the ball and defensively, we were playing great, so I couldn’t ask for a better welcome back to the league.”
With being off for so long and being on a new team, it would have been understandable for Staats to need a few games to adjust. But that wasn’t needed.
“I think I was nervous; it took me a little bit to feel comfortable out there,” says Staats. “I think I fit in well. We have been practicing since the beginning of November, so it’s a month today actually, we’ve been together every week and that’s what it takes.”
“For Randy, I’m super excited for him,” says Petterson. “It’s his first NLL game in nearly three years so there are a lot of emotions for him, but he’s such a great player; it is really easy to play with him and he played awesome.”
This game was a homecoming for Philadelphia’s defender, Alex Pace. He is from Halifax and one of the few Nova Scotians to play in the NLL. The local fans didn’t hide their appreciation. Out of all the players introduced pre-game, including the Thunderbirds players, Pace received the loudest ovation. He got a penalty in the fourth quarter and the Halifax fans booed the referee. Near the end of the game, the fans gave him a 30 second ovation until the game had to resume.
“It was amazing, the support is incredible and to hear everyone cheering gave me chills,” says Pace. “It is something I couldn’t even dream up really. Growing up playing in the NLL was a long dream, but to play in Halifax is unbelievable. More than even a dream come true. I watched a lot of hockey games here in my day so to get to be out here to experience everything is awesome.”
Halifax opened the scoring two-and-a-half minutes into the game. Petterson got open down the middle and received a pass from Chris Boushy. Petterson deked to his left but went right and put it top corner. A minute later, Halifax captain Cody Jamieson scored on the power play to make it 2-0.
Halifax’s new guns, Randy Staats and Ryan Benesch, got on the board after. Staats found Eric Fannell driving into the slot, and Fannell dunked it to make it 3-1. A few minutes later, Benesch passed it to Jamieson low on the left side and he went to the net to score his 300th career goal.
Clarke Petterson and Chris Boushy rounded out the scoring in the first quarter for Halifax. Matt Rambo and John Ranagan scored for Philadelphia. The first quarter ended 6-2 for Halifax.
The Thunderbirds were not satisfied. Fifteen seconds into the second half, Chris Boushy collected his own rebound off the glass to score. Ryan Benesch scored immediately after to extend Halifax’s lead to 8-2.
That ended the night for Philadelphia’s goalie, Zach Higgins, who stopped three out of 11 shots. Angus Goodleaf took over and was great to start, making several saves in the slot, leading to 10 minutes of scoreless action.
Clarke Petterson broke the scoreless run with his hat trick goal on the power play. Randy Staats got his first as a Thunderbird 40 seconds later. He abruptly stopped to let the defender run by him, and with some space, he rifled a shot into the back of the net.
“That felt really good,” says Staats. “It’s been a long time to get that goal. I had a lot of shots in the first half and throughout the game and I wasn’t really finding the net like I wanted to. To get that first one felt like I got the monkey off my back.”
Philadelphia scored a late goal making the score 10-3 at half-time.
The goals kept coming. Both teams scored two goals in the first five minutes. Matt Rambo and Blaze Riorden scored for Philadelphia and Graeme Hossack and Eric Fannell responded for Halifax.
Blaze Riorden and Ryan Benesch traded two goals each to end the half at 14-7 for Halifax. Riorden scored a hat trick in the third quarter alone, while Benesch completed his in the third quarter.
Ryan Benesch is on his second stint with Halifax. He was an inaugural Thunderbird during the 2019-20 season and was their second-leading scorer with 51 points in 12 games. However, he was claimed by Panther City in the expansion draft last year and finished the season with the Albany FireWolves. He signed in Halifax as a free agent this summer.
“It felt like I never left, honestly,” says Benesch. “I have so much familiarity with the guys in the room and they welcomed me back with open arms. So it’s hard to not play your heart out for them.”
Fannell, Petterson and Boushy rounded out the scoring for Halifax and all three scored hat tricks.
Blaze Riorden wouldn’t stop scoring either. He drove into the slot to score his fifth goal of the game to finish the night. His excellent performance was overshadowed by the lopsided score, but he finished with six points. Philadelphia’s new star Joe Resetarits was quiet in this game, registering two assists and eight shots.
The Thunderbirds go on the road for three games because the World Junior Hockey Championships are in Halifax over the next month. Their next game is against the New York Riptide on Dec. 17. The Wings are next playing at home also on Dec. 17 against the Georgia Swarm.