Thunderbirds' Strong Start Propels Them To Victory Over Rush
HALIFAX, NS -- The Halifax Thunderbirds came out on top of the Saskatchewan Rush in the opening game of the 2023-24 NLL season, beating their Canadian rivals 17-12 at Scotiabank Centre on Friday night.
Clarke Petterson paced Halifax with five goals and eight points while Austin Shanks had a six-assist, seven-point night of his own.
Ryan Benesch (3G, 2A), Dawson Theede (2G, 3A), Cody Jamieson (1G, 3A), Cole Kirst (1G, 2A), and Wake:Riat Bowhunter (1G, 1A) all helped pitch in on a solid all-around offensive night.
Jake Withers had a career night, posting a hat trick and four points offensively while winning 31 of 33 draws (94 percent) and tying the league record for single-game loose balls with 32.
Warren Hill earned his first win of the campaign, turning away 34 shots in the process.
Halifax came out firing in the first, jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first six minutes of play - including three goals in the span of a minute.
Benesch opened with the game's first two goals on identical low shots past Saskatchewan starter Frank Scigliano, and quick tallies from Petterson and Theede followed. The Rush got their first of the night from the stick of Zach Manns, but he was answered by three more by the hosts. Petterson got his second of the night, and off that ensuing draw, Withers buried his first of the evening. Petterson completed his first-half hat trick at the 3:09 mark.
A Robert Church power-play goal made it 6-2 with under two minutes left in the first, but Withers got out on the run off the face-off and got that goal back for the Thunderbirds. Bowhunter capped off the frame with an outside shot. Saskatchewan got the final two goals of the first quarter, with Patrick Dodds and Church making it 9-4 through 15 minutes.
The second quarter saw the teams settle into the game defensively. Only three goals were scored, two of them by Halifax. Shanks got his second of the game at the 7:24 mark, and after a Jerrett Smith transition goal, Withers once again answered a Rush goal with an immediate marker off the draw. It was the first hat trick of Withers' NLL career.
Heading into the half, the Thunderbirds held an 11-5 lead.
The third also saw a low goal count, but Halifax outscored Saskatchewan 3-1. Benesch got his hat-trick goal to open the half, with Theede and Petterson following up later in the stanza. Isaac Ngyou got the lone goal for the Rush.
Heading into the fourth with a 14-6 lead, Halifax was able to put the game away with a trio of goals in the first three minutes. Petterson nabbed his fifth of the night before Jamieson got his first goal of the season 22 seconds later. The run was capped off 24 seconds after that, with Kirst scoring his first NLL goal on a five-hole bounce shot.
Saskatchewan ended the game with five straight goals, but the Thunderbirds were able to walk out with a five-goal victory on their home floor.
Sitting at 1-0 to open the season, Halifax will now have a bye week before returning to action on Dec 16 on the road against the New York Riptide.
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