By Matt Stefano
It didn’t happen in September!
It didn’t happen in October!
But now for the first time ever, it’s starting up here in November!
The Soo Thunderbirds will officially kick off their 2020-2021 regular season on Friday, November 20th at 7:00 p.m, when they take on the Blind River Beavers at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
The orange and blue are coming off a perfect 2020 preseason after going 2-0 against the Blind River Beavers.
A PERFECT PRESEASON
The Thunderbirds finished the 2020 preseason with a perfect 2-0 record, thanks a pair of victories over the Blind River Beavers.
On Friday, November 6th, the Thunderbirds defeated the Beavers 6-1 in their first game of preseason action at the John Rhodes Community Centre, followed by a 7-4 win against them at the Blind River Community Centre in Blind River on Saturday, November 7th.
BEFORE THE PANDEMIC
Last season, the Thunderbirds finished in third place in the NOJHL’s West Division standings with a record of 30 wins, 19 losses, 3 overtime losses and 4 shootout losses, good for 67 points.
The Soo was then supposed to play the Blind River Beavers in the NOJHL’s West Division semifinal series, but the 2020 postseason was then cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
GRADUATES ON THE BLUELINE
The Thunderbirds lost two defencemen to graduation from one season ago, including captain Nolan Ford and Jacob Boucha.
Richards Landing, Ontario native Nolan Ford scored 6 times and set up 19 others in 55 games with the Thunderbirds last season and was named the team’s Scholastic Player of the Year and was also the recipient of the team’s Player’s Player Award.
Northville, Michigan product Jacob Boucha finished the 2019-2020 season with the Thunderbirds after being acquired in a trade from the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners back on January 8th.
In 17 games with the Thunderbirds, Boucha recorded 3 assists and 22 penalty minutes.
During the 2020 preseason, the Thunderbirds were led in scoring by second-year forward Cooper Smyl.
Smyl, who had five points, including 2 goals and 3 assists in 2 preseason contests, also finished tied for first in NOJHL preseason scoring with Hearst Lumberjacks forward Raphael Lajuenesse and French River Rapids forward Kyle Avery.
During the 2020 preseason, Thunderbirds newly signed netminder Scott Young had the lowest goals against average (1.00) and the highest save percentage (.955) among all NOJHL goalies.
REEBOK TO LEAD THE FLOCK
They call him Rebek!
They call him Reebok!
But now they will call him captain!
The Soo Thunderbirds have named 20-year old forward Avery Rebek as their team captain for the 2020-2021 season.
Rebek, who is entering his final season in the NOJHL, finished tied for third in team scoring last season with 42 points.
In 112 career regular season games with the Thunderbirds, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native has 26 goals and 64 points.
ASSISTANT CAPTAIN MORGAN
The liqueur Captain Morgan isn’t changing its name.
We’re talking about Parker Morgan, one of the Thunderbirds newly signed forwards.
Twenty-year old forward Parker Morgan has been named as one of the assistant captains for the Thunderbirds road games for the 2020-2021 season.
Morgan, who played the past two seasons (2018-2020) with the Sault College Cougars hockey club, brings championship experience to the Thunderbirds as he helped the Cougars win the ACHA Division 3 championship (national champions) back in 2019.
Morgan and the Cougars were then hoping to repeat as national champions last season in Division 2, but the national tournament was then called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And with the cancellation of hockey season this year at Sault College, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario product decided to sign with the Thunderbirds in the 2020 offseason.
WALKINGTON THIS WAY
During the 2020 offseason, the Thunderbirds have traded 2000 birth year forward Mackenzie Walkington to the SIJHL’s Melville Millionaires in exchange for future considerations.
Walkington, who was born in Cardiff, GBR, United Kingdom, played last season with the Thunderbirds, scoring 15 times and setting up 15 others in 46 games.
After trading last year’s top scorer Jake Kovacs to the OJHL’s Collingwood Blues back on August 28th, the Soo Thunderbirds wasted no time bringing in another goal scorer, by acquiring 20-goal man Caleb Wood from the Soo Eagles on September 6th.
Wood, who was drafted in the 5th round (95th overall) by the Soo Greyhounds in the 2017 Ontario Hockey League Under 18 Priority Selection, spent last season with the our cross-border rivals, the Soo Eagles, where he finished second in team goals (20) and fifth in team points (35) in 50 games.
But with the International Bridge remaining closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thunderbirds were fortunate enough to keep the 20-year old Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native on the Canadian side of the border to stay at home and play for his hometown team.
The Thunderbirds also named Wood as one of the assistant captains for their road games in the 2020-2021 season.
Kovacs, who was traded to the Blues this past offseason, cracked the Thunderbirds roster as a 15-year old last season and finished first in team scoring with 27 goals and 58 points in 55 games.
The 2003 birth-year forward was then drafted in the 13th round (249th overall) by the Barrie Colts in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection this past April.
Kovacs, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, also became this first Soo Thunderbird to be drafted by an Ontario Hockey League team since Matt Dias (2004, Sudbury Wolves).
Thunderbirds second-year forward Cooper Smyl has been named as one of the assistant captains for the club’s home games for the 2020-2021 season.
The eighteen-year old forward scored 16 times and set up 15 others in 49 games with the Soo last season and was also named Thunderbirds Most Improved Player.
After leading all Thunderbird blueliners in points last season with 31, Thunderbirds second-year defenceman Warner Young has been named as one of the club’s of the assistant captains for their home games during the 2020-2021 season.
The Newberry, Michigan native was also named the Thunderbirds Defenceman of the Year in 2019-2020.
HE WILL, HE WILL ROCK YOU!
He suited up in the NOJHL as an affiliate player with his hometown Timmins Rock back in 2018-2019, but now he will have a full-time job with the orange and blue!
On September 16th, the Soo Thunderbirds have acquired blueliner and Timmins, Ontario native Cameron Dutkiewicz from the CCHL2’s Renfrew Timberwolves in exchange for a player development fee.
The 19 year old suited up in his first NOJHL game with the Rock back on November 4th, 2018 in a 1-0 win against the Thunderbirds at the McIntyre Arena in Timmins.
He then played two games with his hometown Rock during the 2019 postseason, and recorded his first NOJHL point (assist) back on March 25th, 2019 in a 5-4 loss to the Hearst Lumberjacks in game 6 of the NOJHL’s East Division semifinal.
Last season, the Timmins, Ontario native suited up for the CCHL2’s Renfrew Timberwolves, where he put up 15 points in 40 regular season games.
The Thunderbirds will be the second NOJHL team that Dutkiewicz suits up for.
A ROYAL IN THE BIRD NEST
On October 22nd, the Soo Thunderbirds have acquired forward Ryan Williams from the CCHL2’s Richmond Royals in exchange for a player development fee.
Williams had 4 goals, 6 points and 35 penalty minutes in 15 games with the Royals last season.
Before finishing the 2019-2020 season with the Richmond Royals, Williams began last season playing in the NOJHL, with stops in Cochrane and Elliot Lake.
CLEMONS ON THE MOVE
On November 17th, the Soo Thunderbirds traded 2000 birth year forward Rylan Clemons to the CCHL’s Carlton Place Canadians in exchange for a player development fee.
The Franklin, Michigan native scored 17 times and set up 21 others in 23 games with the Thunderbirds last season and had only 6 penalty minutes.
He was also named the Thunderbirds Most Sportsmanlike Player.
THE ROAD TO HOUND TOWN
Three years ago, the Soo Thunderbirds developed Soo Greyhounds 2017 3rd round pick Rob Calisti, before he went on to earn a full-time roster spot with the Hounds.
And now, they will have a chance to develop Soo Greyhounds 2020 3rd round pick Connor Toms here in 2020-2021!
Sixteen-year old defenceman Connor Toms signed with the Thunderbirds this past offseason after spending the 2019-2020 season with the GNML’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds, where he led all Jr. Hound blueliners in goals (9), assists (17) and points (26) in 39 regular season games.
Last season, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native also helped the Jr. Hounds win the regular season title.
Toms, who was selected by his hometown Soo Greyhounds in the 3rd round (44th overall) in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection this past April, also became the first Sooite to be drafted by the Hounds in the 3rd round since Brett Perlini (2006).
Perlini played with the Soo Thunderbirds during the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons, before eventually getting drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the 7th round (192nd overall) in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
(Photo credit to Bob Davies)