By Matt Stefano
With hockey season just over a month away, the Soo Thunderbirds have concluded their 2021 Development Camp, which was held at the John Rhodes Community Centre from Friday, August 6 – Sunday, August 8.
After the first two days of having on-ice skills development and off-ice workouts, the club concluded their three-day camp with a scrimmage on Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.
“We were very pleased with the weekend,” said Soo Thunderbirds assistant coach and general manager Jamie Henderson. “It’s been a long road for most of the players without much activity these past twelve months, so it was just great to see them compete and enjoy being around one another again.”
The Thunderbirds, who are preparing for their 23rd season in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, currently have seven returning players from last year’s roster, including forwards Russell Oldham, Michael Chaffay, Tyson Doucette, Ethan Novello, Brock Santa Maria and Ty Zachary and defenceman Kaden Dundas.
“This year’s camp featured many younger players,” Henderson said. “We had some who will join us this season and some who will join us down the road. It was a great experience for our younger guys to see what camp was all about, but ultimately the pace and skill level will only increase as we begin the season.”
“Our veteran players will be looked upon to raise their standard in all areas to really lead the way for us. With that said, there is no doubt we have some very capable young players who will push for ice time and greater responsibilities,” Henderson added.
Starting this season, the Thunderbirds will have two Noahs who will be playing in goal for them, including Noah Zeppa and Noah Metivier.
Both of those Noahs are also from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
“We are confident our goaltending will be a strength for our team and we know both of them will compete day in and day out to improve and be ready,” Henderson said.
Zeppa, who is entering his first season with his hometown Soo Thunderbirds, signed with the Thunderbirds as a free agent back on June 24.
“I thought development camp went great this year as the tempo and compete level was high. I also had the opportunity to meet my new teammates and understand what the coaches expectations are for this upcoming season,” Zeppa said.
Zeppa, who is a 2002-birth-year netminder, already has one season of junior hockey experience under his belt, as he spent the 2019-2020 season with the GOJHL’s Chatham Maroons and the NOJHL’s Hearst Lumberjacks.
“I plan on bringing a leadership role to this team and being a guy the players can count on both on and off the ice. I also want to continue to bring my compete level and work ethic to the team as well as my calmness and athleticism in net. But most importantly, I just want to be a great teammate and help bring another championship to this organization,” Zeppa said.
Metivier, who is a 2004-birth-year netminder, will be entering his rookie season with his hometown Soo Thunderbirds, after spending last season with the Great North Under-18 Hockey League’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds.
“I plan on bringing my leadership and my skills to help lead the boys in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League,” Metivier said.
Looking at the Thunderbirds forwards group, the club has a total of six returning forwards from last year’s roster, but they also made a trade during this year’s off-season by acquiring Saultite forward Cole Delarosbil from the Espanola Express.
“Being at Thunderbirds Development Camp this year was exciting and it was fun getting to know the players and meeting the coaching staff,” Delarosbil said.
Delarosbil, who is a 2001-birth-year forward, will also be entering his third and final season in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“This year’s camp was competitive and fun,” Delarosbil said. “I’m looking forward to the season opener being just over a month away, but I still need to get my skating legs back to feeling in midseason condition,”
Last season with the Express, Delarosbil put up 5 goals and 7 points in 11 games played.
“I thought I played well last season,” Delarosbil said. “However, I always expect more from myself. I would have liked to play more games so I could have gotten more out of myself.”
The Express, who only played 12 games last season before having the remainder of their season cancelled due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions in the Greater Sudbury Area, still finished off the season with a record of 5 wins, 4 losses and 3 shootout losses.
“It was disappointing not being able to play a full 56-game season,” Delarosbil said. “I would’ve liked to see how well we could’ve done.”
Despite not being a normal hockey season, the Express still finished above the .500 mark for the first time in franchise history.
“It was nice to have a winning record and to be apart of that group, because we had a lot of talent,” Delarosbil said.
Looking at the Thunderbirds blueline now, Kaden Dundas is the only returning defenceman from last year’s roster.
Dundas, who will be entering his second season with the Thunderbirds, just turned 18-years-old back on July 11.
“Being the only returning blueliner this year means I have big shoes to fill, but I’m ready to take the next step in my career and fill the role of being a guy a the team can rely on,” Dundas said. “Now that I’m one of the vets on the team, I plan to bring a hardworking, mentality, leadership and a good culture to the locker room.”
In his rookie season with the Thunderbirds in 2020-2021, Dundas recorded 5 assists in 16 games played.
“Last season was an incredible learning experience for me as I had the chance to learn from a very knowledgeable coaching staff, and I got to play with some very solid defensemen. Even though we didn’t get a normal season last year, I still think we made the most of it to become better on and off the ice,” Dundas said.
Sticking with older players, newly signed defenceman Kyle Trottier is currently the oldest defenceman on this year’s roster, but has yet to play a game in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Trottier, who is a 2003-birth-year blueliner, just turned 18-years-old back on April 17.
“I plan on bringing a solid two-way game to this team and being a threat and an asset all over the ice with my playmaking ability. I’m also looking forward to bringing a positive attitude and a hard work ethic night in and night out,” said Trottier.
Trottier, who signed with the Thunderbirds back on June 3, spent last season with the Great North Under-18 Hockey League’s Kapuskasing Flyers.
“Immediately as I stepped out on ice this past weekend with the Thunderbirds, I noticed there was a difference in the pace compared to the Great North Under-18 Hockey League. The game was a lot quicker with less time and space which required quicker decision making,” Trottier said.
One player that Hounds fans in Sault Ste. Marie will be keeping an eye on this season is defenceman Andrew Gibson.
Gibson, who was drafted by the Soo Greyhounds in the 4th round (67th overall) this past June, ended up signing with the Soo Thunderbirds back on July 14.
“I am ready to play my role and bring whatever I need to help the Thunderbirds succeed and have a great season,” Gibson said. “Obviously making the Greyhounds is my goal this year, but I know I am in a great position no matter what happens and I’m looking forward to a great season.”
Gibson, who is a 2005-birth-year defenceman, is currently the youngest player on this year’s roster.
Last season (2020-2021), 2004-birth-year defenceman Connor Toms was the youngest player on the Soo Thunderbirds roster, and ended up signing with the Soo Greyhounds back on June 4.