Winston-Salem might need a rebranding from The Camel City. At the rate the Carolina Thunderbirds are winning, the city powers that be might as well start calling it WINston-Salem. For all of February and so far in March the team has been riding the heatwagon to work at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. Or as the great philosophers DJ Khaled, T-Pain, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Rick Ross have said all they do “is win.”
Quite literally, all the Thunderbirds have done is win in Winston, and all over the FPHL for that matter. Since the clocks struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, the Thunderbirds have lost 4 (1,2,3,4) games. Two in January, just one in February, and one thus far in March. But not only have the Birds been putting the win in Winston-Salem, they have been doing so in dominating fashion, outscoring their opponents 64 to 42 in February and March.
The T’birds are, however, not necessarily carefully creating their scoring opportunities. More like they are using shear numbers and blunt force. Over just four games in March, Thunderbird players have put 158 shots on goal, resulting in 20 goals. That is a scoring percentage of 12.6%. As the great philosopher Mark Twain said “When your opponents are shooting a combined 8.4%, all you gotta do is shoot 8.5% and you’ll win..right?”
Standing at the vanguard of this three month offensive onslaught is Gus Ford (5th in the FPHL SOG tally with 211) who won FPHL Player of the Month for February. Ford collected six goals and 13 assists with 6 multipoint games. Ford is extending his banner year with the Thunderbirds as he continues to lead the FHPL in +/- at +65, points per game at 2.2, assists notching 57, and total points at 97.
Co-piloting this win machine for the Thunderbirds is rookie Lucas Rowe who also picked up FPHL honors as the top rookie on the month.
Rowe has also seen his stats reach career levels in WINston-Salem. Rowe’s five season of pro hockey combined would put him close to his totals this year with the Thunderbirds. He’s best season to date was his 2021-22 season with the Pickering Panthers of the OJHL where he posted 55 points in 54 games. In 39 games with the T’birds, Rowe is sitting at 68 points and is +38.
My math is not great but in the past two years, Lucas Rowe has been a point a night producer at the least.
Also lending a splash of excitement to the winning is the addition to the Thunderbirds is Vinnie Susi who joined Carolina on Febraury 28th.
Susi played two games with Carolina and promptly found himself suspended in the Thunderbirds 5-0 shut out win over the Binghamton Black Bears on March 10th. Coming from the Mississippi Sea Wolves, the 5’7″ defensemen had already scored a goal with the Thunderbirds matching his professional career high total. He also had four PIM with the Thunderbirds, but who is really counting?
But the wins in Winston are not without defense. Just like the Thunderbirds have tattooed opposing goalies with 158 shots in four games thus far in March, goalies Mario Cavaliere and Boris Babik, who continue to split time almost evenly, have faced 155 shots in the same 12 periods. Of those 155, they’ve stopped all but 13.*
Despite seeing a combined 1,493 shots on the season Cavaliere and Babik, like Ford, continue to sit at the top of the FPHL leaderboards. Cavaliere is second in wins with 20 while Babik has fallen to 5th with 13 decisions. Babik and Cavaliere also have the fewest (Babik 4) and second fewest (Cavaliere 5) losses in the league. Both also hold spots in the top ten in the fewest goals given up. Babik is 2nd with 58 and Cavaliere is 6th with 80. Again, both netminders have faced close to 1,500 combined shots on the season.
The Carolina Thunderbirds are sitting in 2nd place in the Continental Division of the FPHL and clinched a playoff birth back on February 25th. They are one point behind the Columbus River Dragons who have been in first for most of the season.
Carolina has a three game home in Winston against the Motor City Rocker starting March 17th. The Rockers have been somewhat of a thorn in feathers of the Birds, beating them in two of the four games they have faced off.
A quick trip to Elmira to take on the Mammoths, and right back to Winston-Salem for the Mississippi Sea Wolves. Carolina won both matchups against Elmira by a combined 19-4 back in December. The T’birds are 9-2 against the Sea Wolves and overall dominated them three games to none in their February series in Winston
Closing out the season, with playoff seeding likely to be on the line, the Carolina Thunderbirds will be in a very weird four game series with the Columbus River Dragons. The times will play two games in Columbus, one in Winston, and finish the season in Columbus.
As the Thunderbirds continue to win, it could be this final series will be full of fireworks. As long as Gus Ford, Lucas Rowe, and the boys in goal keep things moving on the same pace in Winston, the Thunderbirds stand good chances at a deep run in the FPHL playoffs. If you cannot make it out to the Camel City or as it should be renamed WINston-Salem you can keep up with the Carolina Thunderbirds through their Youtube and Twitter accounts.
However, if you are here in North Carolina, it would well be worth your time to make a run to the Winston-Salem Fairground Annex. Tickets start at $9 and work their way up, so this is a very affordable option to see winning hockey.
*In comparison, Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen has seen 148 in his last 7 NHL games, letting in 11.