Thunderbirds Snapshot: 2021 Holiday Break

Dec 30, 2021

December 30, 2021 - Ty Merrow


After playing their first two games of NLL action in over 630 days, the Halifax Thunderbirds are one of two remaining undefeated NLL teams. Their attempt to extend that streak will have to wait, though, as the team is in the middle of a break from action.


The team will be back in action on Jan. 15 on the road against the Toronto Rock. Until that contest rolls around, we can break down what we’ve seen so far from the purple and orange, featuring insight from head coach Mike Accursi.


Any early snapshot of a season needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The Thunderbirds have just two games under their belt, and statistics accordingly dwell in the land of small sample sizes. But there are early trends that are apparent.


With that established, here are the major stats for the Thunderbirds after two games:


  • 2-0 win-loss record, an 11.5 GF/GAME and 9.0 GA/GAME
  • +5 goal differential and 57 points (23G, 34A).
  • 71.5 shots total per game, 48 on goal per game – a team 16.1 S% and 67.1 SOG%.
  • Opponents are averaging 69 shots against total per game, with 51 on goal – an opposing 13.0 S% and 73.9 SOG%.
  • Through 128:30 min. of play, goalie Warren Hill has an 8.40 GAA and .824 Sv%.
  • On special teams, the Thunderbirds are cashing in on 22.2% of power play opportunities and killing 46.2% of penalties. They’ve had 40 PIM across two games, opponents 37 PIM.
  • As a team, the Thunderbirds have collected 154 loose balls, caused 13 turnovers, have 26 turnovers of their own, blocked 11 shots against, and had 10 of their own shots blocked.
  • Clarke Petterson leads the team in points with 12 (8G, 4A), followed by Chris Boushy with seven points (3G, 4A).
  • 10 different players have found the back of the net, while 15 have recorded a point.


Those statistics encompass wins against arguably two of the top NLL teams this season, where depth has been tested – no Cody Jamieson for either contest, and both Austin Shanks and Rhys Duch left games due to injury – and it has taken a different hero to win each game. 


“When you play those teams early in the season, it really is kind of like a benchmark of where you’re at,” Accursi said. “We had two tough games against both of those teams but came out on the right side of it. It’s a positive start. I do think we do have lots of things that we need to improve on, and those are things you kind of continue to work on throughout the season and you hope to try and peak at the right point.”


Of the things that do not need much more improvement is the Thunderbirds’ defence. Collectively, it’s less flashy early on than in years past. The transition game is there, evident by the team’s love of pushing in transition and netting five fast break goals, but the caused turnovers and blocked shots are not being made at a prolific pace.


The strength of this defence is how it is collectively cerebral – timely slides, keen instincts on when to pressure opponents and when to back off, letting Hill see the shots he wants to see. In a word: cohesive.


“It’s kind of like we’re one hand; where one finger goes, the rest of the hand goes,” Accursi said. “I think they’re really into that mindset where we played a really solid team defence, and I think guys have really just bought into what (assistant coach) Billy Dee (Smith) and I have been trying to preach … When you have all of those guys working together, it’s really hard to find a weak spot in the defence, especially when they’re playing so tight and playing so effectively together.”




The Thunderbirds’ defence is arguably what won them their first two games, coupled with the team’s excellence at even strength. Opponents have only been able to score four five-on-five goals against the Thunderbirds this season. On the other side of the floor, the Thunderbirds’ O has netted 10 even strength goals.


Winning the settled game in today’s NLL is arguably the biggest indicator of team success. All teams are dangerous in transition, and coupled with goals on special teams, extra attacker, empty netters, and broken plays, success often comes down to winning the most difficult plays, which come five-on-five.


Halifax has kept even on the run against other teams. They let the Rush get five power play goals against in the home opener, but their defence’s ability to hold that team to hardly any even-strength goals allowed the offence to win the settled game.


Leading that winning is sophomore forward Petterson. His five points (2G, 3A) in the first game were part of a balanced team offensive effort, and his sock trick (six goals) and assist against the Rock carried the Thunderbirds.


His early dominance – on both ends of the floor – has been no surprise for Accursi or the Thunderbirds. Petterson played defence for the first half against Saskatchewan to help stymie their run game and do some damage of his own in transition.


“When you talk about complete players, he is one of them,” Accursi opined. “He goes back and plays defence and scores goals in transition, and the defence is seamless with him back there, because he’s such a smart player and smart decision maker. I really can’t say enough about the continued evolution of Clarke Petterson and where I think he’s going to go. I think he’s going to be one of the best in the league for sure.”


The areas the Thunderbirds’ offence has struggled, however, has been on the power play –  just 2-for-9 – and scoring balance between his left- and right-handed forwards. Both can be chalked up to small sample size at this time, and Accursi, who preaches offence by committee, is confident in and patient with his veteran left-handers, knowing they have too much skill and experience to be held off the scoresheet for long.


“Our right side has carried us for the most part, and our lefties have been good at moving the ball and finding those righties, but we definitely need to have consistent scoring from the left-hand side,” Accursi said. “Take Jammer out of the equation, it shouldn’t matter. Those guys are all seasoned veterans and guys that have played a long time in the league that should be able to put the ball in the net. 


“We’ve been real fortunate that we’ve scored in transition and been effective in different aspects of our offensive game that we haven’t really had to rely on them too much, but at some point, the sticks on the right side are going to go cold, and we’ll need the lefties to step up. Again, that’s something that we’re always watching out for and hoping that those lefties get going, because if they do, then we’re in good shape.”




An NLL season is a marathon, not a sprint, so staying in good shape is imperative for this team. After no NLL lacrosse for almost two years, the first two games have been a wake-up call, a reminder that there really are not any exercises that can replicate the action and moves players make during an NLL game.


With the Dec. 30 contest against the Roughnecks postponed, the Thunderbirds will return from their break with a road game against the Toronto Rock (2-1) on Jan. 15.


The Rock will have a road game of their own between now and then, taking on the Buffalo Bandits on Jan. 8. Their lone loss came at the hands of the Thunderbirds on Dec. 10, and they bounced back from that 11-7 loss with a 12-9 home win against the Philadelphia Wings.


They’re perfect at FirstOntario Centre and will have twice as many games under their belt as the Thunderbirds have. Rob Hellyer (5G, 9A), Reid Reinholdt (3G, 8A), and Tom Schreiber (8G, 2A) lead the team out the front door, with goalie Nick Rose turning in another strong season, posting a 9.67 GAA and .782 Sv% to complement his 2-1 record.


Regardless of record for either team, it will be a difficult contest for the Thunderbirds in their first road game of the season, especially considering there are 36 days between their last contest and Jan. 15 and the Rock will certainly look to even the season series against their conference rival.


The mission for the Thunderbirds, however, remains the same. Another litmus test, another chance to improve, another step towards the Thunderbirds’ goal of bringing Halifax an NLL Cup.

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