A New Challenge

Winston-Salem, NC – During the course of a hockey season, teams hit ups and downs. For the 2023-24 Carolina Thunderbirds, that is no exception. 


When going through lulls though, the mark of a good team is how they respond, and how they pull through. After a rotating door of players, the Thunderbirds have still found ways to win. 


Since December 23rd when Carolina put up three 3rd period goals to defeat the Columbus River Dragons at home, the Thunderbirds have gone 4-3-0, with all three losses to Columbus. Players have been called up, new players have come in, but the goal and the system remains the same for Steve Harrison’s squad. 


This weekend, Carolina faces off against a new opponent, the Mississippi Sea Wolves. Mississippi has seen a resurgence in its second season, sitting in third in the Continental division with 40 points. Winners of four straight and six out of their last ten, the Sea Wolves come in confident expecting to catch Carolina at the right time, but the Thunderbirds coming off a loss, have always responded. 


The Thunderbirds are 4-1 coming off a loss this season, averaging 5.6 goals per game in those five contests. Carolina has put up eight goals twice coming off a loss, once against Blue Ridge on November 17th in an 8-1 victory, and handing Binghamton its worst loss of the season, 8-3, on December 9th


Now coming off its worst loss of the year against Columbus Wednesday, how does Carolina respond? It starts with the Czech Line. Forward Petr Panacek is having a career year so far. The Vysocany, Czechia native has already eclipsed his assist total from a season ago with 32 on the season and recorded his 250th FPHL point on Wednesday in Columbus. Jan Salak and Jiri Pestuka have also been key contributors to the Thunderbirds this season, both totaling 22 points and the Czech Line has recorded 83 points together for the Thunderbirds attack. 


Elsewhere, the line of Jacob Schnapp, Jon Buttitta and Nate Keeley have come into its own. All three forwards have double digit points on the season, while Dominic Dumas has been a good addition getting everyone involved, recording 12 assists in his first professional season. 


On defense, the Thunderbirds have been cool and calm for a majority of the season allowing only 68 goals in 26 games. On Wednesday, Carolina gave up the most goals it has this season in a single game with seven, but with Mississippi for four straight games, the Thunderbirds look to right the ship and separate from the rest of the division. 


Against everyone else in the division besides Columbus, the Thunderbirds have dominated, going 12-0-0, and look to continue that trend this weekend against the Sea Wolves. Puck drop between Carolina and Mississippi is set for 7:35 p.m. on Friday from the Annex on Teddy Bear Toss night. If you can’t make it to the rink Friday night, fans can catch the game on Thunderbirds TV or on WTOB 980 AM with the voice of the Thunderbirds, Brendan Reilly, on the call.