Back with a vengeance so far in 2021, the Evansville Thunderbolts have picked up where Coronavirus forced them to leave off two seasons ago.
"It's definitely a bit of unfinished business," says Evansville Thunderbolts goaltender Brian Billett.
"It's kind of a big rallying point for lots of the guys coming back this year," says Evansville Thunderbolts center and captain Austin Plevy.
Unfinished business is the mantra for the Evansville Thunderbolts this season, and with good reason. Two years ago, first year head coach Jeff Bes took over arguably the worst franchise in the Southern Professional Hockey League and turned them into a winner. All but assured of a playoff spot and just a single point away from home ice advantage, COVID-19 scuttled the Bolts championship dreams.
"We left on such a good note," says Billett. "The streak that we were on. We were continually climbing up the standings. Pushing for that home ice."
"We thought we had a really good thing going our first year before it got ended due to COVID," says Plevy, "obviously, which was super disappointing."
With the pandemic in full swing, the Thunderbolts joined for other SPHL teams in electing to sit out the 2020-21 season. And with that, Bes' star-studded roster, led by M-V-P and Rookie of the Year Austin Plevy and top goaltender Brian Billett, were scattered to the four winds, with many playing for the active S-P-H-L teams.
"Obviously, going to a new city," says Plevy, "a new area for just a short period of time. It went ok. Had fun, met some new guys. But obviously I'm happy to be back here in Evansville with the guys and coach Bes. This city has been great to me, so I'm happy to be here."
"I was actually up in Toronto, Canada just doing some consulting work, staying in shape," says Billett. "Really got to take care of my body. For me, going into my sixth year of pro, it was a bit of a silver lining situation. I was able to take care of my body and get back here 100 percent and ready to go for a full season."
Now the Bolts are back and off to a hot streak, winners of three of their first four games and tied for first in the standings. Bes has once again gone out and got young talent, like Mike Ferraro, who has been named SPHL Player of the Week already, along with vets like Hayden Hulton, Kyle Thacker and Brandon Lubin, re-joining Plevy and Billett on the roster.
"The key coming back was getting a good goaltender in Brian Billett," says Evansville Thunderbolts head coach Jeff Bes. "Austin Plevy, the center, Rookie of the Year, MVP and scoring leader. Something you can build upon. That was very significant for us to get them back and help lead this hockey club."
"We wanted to be back here and kind of finish what we started," says Plevy. "We knew we really had a good thing going. It will be one of those things that I'll think about forever, that we didn't get to play that season out. We thought we had the team to win the championship. So hopefully we can get it going again."
"We're excited to be back," says Billett. "Not only for the hockey, but we all love this city and it's something near and dear to me especially, so I couldn't be more thrilled to be back."