By Matt Stefano
After sweeping the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in four straight in the NOJHL finals, and winning their second straight Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy, the Soo Thunderbirds are now getting set to compete for the Central Canada Junior A championship in the same place they were crowned league champions.
This year’s Dudley Hewitt Cup championship is held in Kirkland Lake from May 3rd-7th at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.
Not only are the Soo Thunderbirds heading into the Central Canada Junior A championship as back to back NOJHL champions, but they are also heading in as the defending Dudley Hewitt Cup champions!
At last year’s Central Canada Junior A championship held in Fort Frances, Ontario, the T-Birds captured the Dudley Hewitt Cup over the host team Fort Frances Lakers by a score of 3-2 on May 2nd, 2015 in front of 1375 people at the Ice For Kids Arena.
That game was led by Nick Tassone, who found the back of the net twice while Joey Miller set up a pair. T-Birds forward Matt Pinder, who is an overage this season, had the game winning goal.
Former T-Birds goaltender Mario Culina, who finished this season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires, turned aside twenty nine shots for the victory.
During last year’s Central Canada Junior A championship, the T-Birds were led in scoring by forward and Waterloo, Ontario native Boris Katchouk (3G 3A 6P), who recently completed his Ontario Hockey League rookie season with the Soo Greyhounds, and is rated twenty fifth on the 2016 NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings list.
Owen Headrick, who recently completed his rookie NCAA Division 1 hockey season with the Lake Superior State Lakers, led all defencemen in scoring during last year’s Central Canada Junior A championship with five assists. Following the championship game, the Garden River, Ontario product was also named the Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament’s most sportsmanlike player.
Now looking ahead to this year’s Central Canada Junior A championship, the T-Birds are older and more experienced. After winning the Dudley Hewitt Cup last year with five overage players on their roster, this year’s team has a total of nine.
Not to mention, ten players on this year’s T-Birds roster were also part of last year’s Dudley Hewitt Cup championship team.
So, let’s look at some more interesting facts!
For the second straight playoff season, the T-Birds were led in scoring by second year forward Matt Caruso.
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario product, who recently turned nineteen years old, led the team in postseason scoring this year with eight goals and fifteen points through thirteen games.
Caruso, who has twenty two career playoff goals, now sits second on the Soo Thunderbirds all time playoff goals list.
Following the 2015-2016 regular season, Caruso was also the recipient of the Joe Rocchetta Trophy as the T-Birds top scorer with thirty goals and sixty two points through fifty three games played.
OLDER BROTHER MIKE
After rejoining his hometown Soo Thunderbirds during November, T-Birds overage defenceman Mike Caruso was named this year’s playoff MVP, following former T-Birds defenceman Owen Headrick, who won it following our game five final series win over the Cochrane Crunch on April 19th, 2015.
DID YOU KNOW?
On that date (April 19th, 2015), Mike Caruso celebrated his twentieth birthday which was the day he witnessed his younger brother Matt and the T-Birds capture the Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy, and now one year later on April 22nd, 2016, he came back and helped the Soo win their second consecutive NOJHL title and was crowned playoff MVP.
Caruso, who finished second in league defencemen scoring during the 2016 postseason with eleven points, was right behind T-Birds second year defenceman Caleb Boman, who finished first with fourteen.
Boman, eighteen, recently signed his letter of intent to play for the Niagara Purple Eagles in NCAA Division 1 hockey for next season.
So, counting our nine overage players graduating this season, Boman, who is eighteen years old, will be a tenth player you can add to that graduating list.
Our nine overage players include Joey Miller, Aiden Salerno, Khadyn Butterfly, Matt Pinder, Mike Caruso, Matt Mitchell, Izaak Del Mastro, Nathan Hebert along with captain Brett Jeffries.
LOOKING BETWEEN THE PIPES!
Since signing with the T-Birds in January, T-Birds goaltender Connor Ryckman had eleven wins and one loss through twelve regular season games along with three shutouts.
Then, during the postseason, the Minesing, Ontario product and Barrie Colts prospect also set an identical win loss record going 11-1 through twelve playoff games, but posted three shutouts more than he did during the regular season.
Ryckman had six shutouts during the 2016 NOJHL postseason!
DID YOU KNOW?
The NOJHL record for most shutouts in a regular season is five!
That record is shared by four goalies, including a pair of them being former Soo Thunderbirds:
Frank Novello (Soo Thunderbirds) – 2000-2001 (5 shutouts)
Martin Perreault (North Bay Skyhawks) – 2003-2004 (5 shutouts)
John Kleinhans (Soo Thunderbirds) – 2011-2012 (5 shutouts)
Garrett Forrest (Powassan Voodoos) – 2015-2016 (5 shutouts)
But let’s not forget that the T-Birds, who only surrendered ninety three goals against during the 2015-2016 regular season, set a new team record for least goals scored against in one season, dating back to 2000-2001 where they only surrendered ninety five goals against.
Now we take a look at the teams the T-Birds will be facing at the Central Canada Junior A championship!
KIRKLAND LAKE GOLD MINERS (NOJHL)
– This year’s Dudley Hewitt Cup host team
– Gold Miners forward Brayden Stortz led all NOJHL players in points during the regular season with one hundred
– Goaltender Tyler Mazzocato was the recipient of this year’s Wayne Chase Memorial Trophy for the lowest goals against average of 2.12
FORT FRANCES LAKERS (SIJHL)
– Forward Dylan Robertson led all SIJHL players in points during the regular season with eighty eight
– Nick Minerva led all SIJHL defencemen in points with seventy three
– Forward Cole Tymkin led all SIJHL rookies in points forty eight
– Brandon Bodnar had the SIJHL’s lowest goals against average at 1.94 and the highest save percentage of .935
TRENTON GOLDEN HAWKS (OJHL)
– Forward Danny Hanlon led the Hawks in points during the regular season with sixty
– Hanlon also committed to play for the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks in 2016-2017
– Daniel Urbani led all OJHL goalies in wins this season with thirty four, along the league’s lowest goals against average of 1.69
The Soo Thunderbirds, who are the defending Central Canada champions will look to become the first team to win back to back Dudley Hewitt Cup titles since the QPJHL’s Chateauguay Elites did in 1993 and 1994.