By Matt Stefano
A shortened NOJHL season due to COVID is now in the past, and now the road to the Centennial Cup is finally back!
The Soo Thunderbirds will officially kick off their 23rd season in the NOJHL tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. in a road game against the Blind River Beavers.
And as we get set for the 2021-2022 season, let’s take a look at all things about this year’s team and a bit from last season.
The 2020-2021 season was a different season due to COVID, but it was still a successful season for the Soo Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds finished the 2020-2021 season in first place in the NOJHL’s West Division with a record of 13 wins, 6 losses and 2 shootout losses.
They also finished as the highest scoring team in the NOJHL’s West Division with 99 goals.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
For the first time in four seasons, the Soo Thunderbirds will be starting their regular season on the road.
The club will open up it’s 2021-2022 season tomorrow night in Blind River, in a 7:00 p.m. matchup against the Blind River Beavers at the Blind River Community Centre.
This will also be the first time these two clubs will meet since the Thunderbirds defeated them in the COVID Cup series back in March.
Looking at the this year’s team, the Thunderbirds have a total of six players back from last year’s roster.
This year’s returning players are forwards Russell Oldham, Brock Santa Maria, Ethan Novello, Michael Chaffay and Tyson Doucette and defenceman Kaden Dundas.
All six of those players are also all from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
DALEY IS IN
At the end of April, former NHL defenceman and former Soo Greyhounds captain Trevor Daley took over as one of the new owners of the Soo Thunderbirds.
Daley, who is from Toronto, Ontario, played four seasons with the Soo Greyhounds from 1999-2003, and served as the Greyhounds captain during his final season with them in 2002-2003.
Following his OHL career with the Hounds, Daley then went on to have a 16-year career in the NHL, with stops in Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
During his NHL career, Daley also won back to back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
The 37-year-old now serves as the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey operations advisor.
Six seasons ago, the Thunderbirds had Jamie Henderson as their general manager and Jeremy Rebek as their assistant coach.
Then two seasons ago, they had Joey Miller as their assistant coach and Terry Barbeau as their goaltender coach.
And now as we enter the 2021-2022 season, all four of those guys are coming back to take on the same roles.
Jamie Henderson is back as the Thunderbirds general manager while Jeremy Rebek and Joey Miller are coming back to serve as the club’s assistant coaches.
Barbeau, meanwhile, is returning as the club’s goaltender coach.
Henderson, who is now back as the Thunderbirds general manager, will also be one of the club’s assistant coaches for the 2021-2022 season.
SO VERY VERY COLE
The name Cole sure seems to be a popular name this season on the Soo Thunderbirds!
One Cole will be on the ice, the other Cole will be behind the bench, and the other Cole will be going out to get players.
Those three Coles are Cole Delarosbil (Forward), Cole Jarrett (Head Coach and Co-Owner) and Cole Cloutier (Assistant General Manager).
Delarosbil, who is a 2001-birth-year forward, came over to the Thunderbirds this past offseason in a trade with the Espanola Express.
In 38 career NOJHL games played (All with Espanola), Delarosbil has 11 goals, 5 assists and 13 penalty minutes.
This season will also be Delarosbil’s final season of junior hockey.
Jarrett, who is entering his first season as head coach and co-owner of the Soo Thunderbirds, spent last season as an assistant coach of the Great North Under-18 Hockey League’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds.
The 38-year-old was also a star defenceman with the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers from 1999-2003.
Cloutier, who has just been hired as the new Thunderbirds assistant general manager this past offseason, already has previous work experience with the Soo Thunderbirds, as he worked as a game night staff member for the club’s home games for the past three seasons.
This season, in his new role, the 18-year-old will be working alongside Thunderbirds general manager Jamie Henderson.
HAVE ANOTHER MILLER
This season, the Thunderbirds will have not one, but two Millers on their coaching staff!
Yes, the club has brought back Joey Miller as their assistant coach for the 2021-2022 season, but during this year’s offseason, they have also hired their former captain Anthony Miller as one of the other assistant coaches.
Anthony Miller, who is entering his first season as an assistant coach with the Thunderbirds, spent the last two seasons as the Thunderbirds social media manager.
The 27-year-old also has previous coaching experience as he served as the Soo Greyhounds video coach during the 2018-2019 season.
Miller, a former forward, played three seasons with the Soo Thunderbirds from 2012-2015, and helped the club win the Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy and a Dudley Hewitt Cup in his final season with them in 2014-2015.
HENDO LET THE DOGS OUT
Since being named the new Soo Thunderbirds general manager this past offseason, Jamie Henderson has been busy signing many players from the Great North Under-18 Hockey League’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds.
This past offseason, Hendo signed five players out of the Jr. Greyhounds program, including blueliners Michael Beltrano, Kolby Fellinger and Creo Solomon, forward Sam Lake and goaltender Noah Metivier.
Henderson also coached all five of those players on the Jr. Greyhounds during the 2020-2021 season.
THE NOAH ZONE
Starting this season, the Soo Thunderbirds will have two Noahs who will be playing in net for them, including Noah Zeppa and Noah Metivier.
Zeppa is entering his first season with the Thunderbirds after spending last season with the CCHL’s Renfrew Wolves, while Metivier is entering his rookie season after spending last season with the Great North Under-18 Hockey League’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds.
The last time the Thunderbirds had two goalies on their team that had the same first name, was back in the 2008-2009 season, when they had Ryan Dube and Ryan McDonald.
That season, the Thunderbirds also went on to win their first Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy in franchise history.
Another year, another Knight!
For the second consecutive year, the Soo Thunderbirds have signed another player out of the St. Mary’s Knights hockey club.
This past August, 2001-birth-year forward Colby Arbour became the latest player out of the St. Mary’s Knights hockey club to sign with the Soo Thunderbirds.
Arbour, who just turned 20-years-old back on May 24, spent the 2019-2020 season with the St. Mary’s Knights, where he finished second in team scoring with 19 points, including 8 goals and 11 assists in 17 games played.
That season, Arbour also helped the Knights win a City and NOSSA championship.
Arbour, who is coming to the Thunderbirds after playing for the Knights, will also be reunited this season with his former St. Mary’s Knights teammates Ethan Novello and Sam Lake.
DUNDAS GETTING IT DONE
After putting up 5 assists in 16 games during his rookie season with the Thunderbirds in 2020-2021, defenceman Kaden Dundas had a chance to hit the ice with an Ontario Hockey League team this summer.
At the end of August, Dundas attended Soo Greyhounds 2021 Training Camp as a free agent.
The 18-year-old is also the only returning defenceman from last year’s Thunderbirds roster.
DOUCETTE GOT DISCOVERED
After putting up 11 points in 20 games during his rookie season with the Thunderbirds in 2020-2021, forward Tyson Doucette got discovered by one OHL team down south.
This summer, the 17-year-old attended Peterborough Petes Training Camp as a free agent.
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native is now getting set to enter his second season with his hometown Thunderbirds.
OLE, OLE, OLE, OUELLET!
After spending the last two seasons with the Great North-Under-18 Hockey League’s Kapuskasing Flyers, forward Kelsey Ouellet is getting set to enter his first season with the Soo Thunderbirds.
In his first season with the Flyers in 2019-2020, the Longlac, Ontario native scored 16 goals, 14 assists and had a team-leading 108 penalty minutes through 38 regular season games.
The Longlac, Ontario native also skated with the Flyers last season in 2020-2021, in what was a different season due to COVID.
TROTTS ON THE BLUELINE
Defenceman Kyle Trottier is enterting his first season with the Thunderbirds after spending the past three seasons with the Great North Under-18 Hockey League’s Kapuskasing Flyers.
In 59 career games played with the Flyers, the Kapuskasing, Ontario native found the back of the net 6 times and set up 24 others.
LIVING IN NORTH AMERICA
For the first time in two seasons, the Thunderbirds will have a player on their team that was born outside of North America.
That player is Tunisian-born forward Youssef Chaouachi.
Chaouachi is entering his first season with the Thunderbirds after spending the 2019-2020 season with the Kents Hill School Huskies in Maine, USA.
Chaouachi, who was originally born in Salambo, Tunisia, has been living in Montreal, Quebec ever since he was 8-years-old.
The last time the Thunderbirds had a player on their team that was born outside of North America, was back in the 2019-2020 season, when they had British-born forward Mackenzie Walkington.
STEELHEADS PROSPECT IN THE NEST
One of the other newcomers on this year’s team is 17-year-old forward Kenny Belanger Jr.
Belanger, who is entering his rookie season with the Thunderbirds, was drafted in the 2nd round (22nd overall) by the Mississauga Steelheads in the 2021 Ontario Hockey League Under-18 Priority Selection.
During the 2019-2020 season, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native played with the Toronto Marlboros Under-16 hockey club, where he had a goal and four helpers through 27 regular season games.
Looking ahead to this season, Belanger will now be playing on the Thunderbirds with his cousin Ethan Novello.
ONE FROM USA
Starting this season, the Thunderbirds will have one American-born player on their team, in Connor Healy.
Healy, a 2003-birth-year blueliner from Wausau, Wisconsin, was acquired by the Thunderbirds in a trade from the SJHL’s Weyburn Red Wings back on September 15.
The 18-year-old blueliner spent last season with the Wausau West High School Warriors, where he finished second in team scoring with 34 points in 18 regular season games.
Last season, he also served as the Warriors team captain.
It’s been a fine summer for 2005-birth-year defenceman Andrew Gibson!
Gibson, who signed with the Soo Thunderbirds back on July 14, has now just signed with the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds this past Tuesday.
The La Salle, Ontario native spent last season with the Windsor Zone Jr. Spitfires Under-16 hockey club, before being selected 67th overall by the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL Draft this past June.
So far this year, the 16-year-old has 1 assist in one preseason game played with the OHL that signed him.
Did you know?
Current Soo Greyhounds forward Cole Mackay signed with the Soo Thunderbirds during the 2017 offseason, but ended up making the Hounds in the 2017-2018 season.
(Photo credit to Matt Stefano)