By Matt Stefano
The 2020-2021 season was a season like no other.
A season that was short.
A season without body contact.
A season with only 50 fans in the stands at the John Rhodes.
A season that was put on hold a few times.
And a season that saw most NOJHL teams having their seasons get cancelled due to on going COVID-19 restrictions.
But at the end of this season, it was one team that made history.
This season, the Soo Thunderbirds have won their first ever, and maybe their last COVID Cup.
The COVID Cup was a seven-game series between the Soo Thunderbirds and the Blind River Beavers, who were the only two teams left in the NOJHL’s West Division during the month of March.
And during this championship series, the Thunderbirds picked up 5 wins against the Beavers and lost to them twice, including once in a shootout.
Not only did the Thunderbirds win the 2021 COVID Cup, but they also proved to everyone that they can stay safe and continue playing the game they love even through a time like this.
And with the 2020-2021 season officially in the books, let’s have a look at some of the things that stood out during this different but successful season.
NEW COACHING STAFF
Following the departure of head coach John Parco, associate coach Marc Disano and assistant coaches Joey Miller and Frank Porco and goaltender coach Terry Barbeau at the end of the 2019-2020 season, the Thunderbirds brought in a whole new coaching staff to take over behind the bench for 2020-2021.
Those new faces included Denny Lambert (Head Coach & Assistant General Manager), Jeremy Stevenson (Associate Coach), Gary Roach (Assistant Coach), Micky Sartoretto (Assistant Coach), Aidan Wright (Assistant Coach) and Jason Cooke (Goaltender Coach).
SMYL THE DEAL
After putting up 16 goals and 31 points in his rookie season in 2019-2020, Thunderbirds second-year forward Cooper Smyl finished first in team scoring this season with 17 goals and 24 points
Smyl, who set a career-high 17 goals in just 19 games played this season, also led the Thunderbirds in game-winning goals with 3.
DUTKIEWICZ DID WELL
After coming over to the Thunderbirds in a trade from the Renfrew Timberwolves back in September, Timmins, Ontario native Cam Dutkiewicz ended up having an outstanding season on the blueline.
This season, the nineteen-year old defenceman led all NOJHL blueliners in goals (9), points (19) and power play tallies (6).
He also became just the fourth defenceman in Thunderbirds history to finish first among NOJHL blueliners in scoring, joining Jeff Cochrane (2001), Ryan Mackay (2004) and Steven Bellini (2019).
JAKE IN THE BOX
This season, Thunderbirds defenceman Jake Doucette led all NOJHL players in penalty minutes with 36.
Doucette also became just the second player in franchise history to finish a season with the most penalty minutes in the league, joining Jake Critchley (2003).
The Thunderbirds began their 2020-2021 season with 0 wins, 2 losses and 1 shootout loss, which was their worst start to a season in franchise history.
The Thunderbids, who also lost their first two home games of the season, tied their team record for most consecutive losses at home to start a season.
IN THE SIN BIN
Yes, it was a short season.
But the Thunderbirds still finished this season with the most penalty minutes in the NOJHL.
The Thunderbirds finished this season with a league-leading 310 penalty minutes.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Goaltender Alex Bugeja had quite the season in just his first season with the Thunderbirds.
Bugeja, who signed with the Thunderbirds back on October 15, finished the season with a .936 save percentage, which was the best among all NOJHL goaltenders.
TOMS AT THE TOP
The 2020-2021 season was quite the season for Thunderbirds rookie defenceman and Soo Greyhounds 2020 3rd round pick Connor Toms.
The seventeen-year old led all NOJHL rookie defencemen in scoring this season with 4 goals and 18 points.
He also led all NOJHL blueliners in assists (14), power play assists (7) and shortanded goals (2).
WEST END BIRDS
They may have started the season with three straight losses, but that didn’t stop them from finishing in first place in the West Division.
The Thunderbirds finished this season in first place in the NOJHL’s West Division with a record of 13 wins, 6 losses and 2 shootout losses, good for 28 points.
They also led the West Division in goals this season with 99.
(Photo of Thunderbirds goaltender Scott Young credit to Bob Davies)