By Matt Stefano
Die-hard hockey fans in the Soo have waited long enough, but now the wait is finally over!
The Soo Thunderbirds will play the first game of their 2020-2021 regular season tonight at 7:00 p.m. against the Blind River Beavers at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
In eight meetings against the Beavers during the 2019-2020 season, the Soo defeated them four times and lost to them four times, including once in overtime.
The Soo also outscored Blind River 30-26 overall.
Former Thunderbirds forward Jake Kovacs led the way offensively against the Beavers last season with 5 goals and 9 points.
The Soo finished the 2019-2020 regular season with a record of 30 wins, 19 losses, 3 overtime losses and 4 shootout losses, good for 67 points and third place in the NOJHL’s West Division standings.
The Beavers had a record season in 2019-2020, setting new franchise records for most wins (37) and points (78) in a regular season.
They also set a new team record for most wins at home in a regular season with 21.
The Thunderbirds have a total of seven returning full time skaters from their 2019-2020 roster, including forwards Avery Rebek, Will Josephson, Kurtis Rogers, Cooper Smyl, Brock Santa Maria and defencemen Dylan Parsons and Warner Young.
BEHIND THE BENCH
The Thunderbirds will have five new faces behind the bench in the 2020-2021 season, including head coach Denny Lambert, associate coach Jeremy Stevenson and assistant coaches Micky Sartoretto, Gary Roach and Aidan Wright.
Lambert and Stevenson both played in the Ontario Hockey League with the Soo Greyhounds, before going on to have National Hockey League careers.
Sartoretto and Roach both have Ontario Hockey League experience while Wright played across the border with the Lake Superior State University Lakers hockey club.
BROTHERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME
Tonight’s opening game of the regular season between the Thunderbirds and Beavers will see a lot of brothers on the ice.
Brothers Tyson and Jacob Doucette of the Soo Thunderbirds will be up against other brothers on the Blind River Beavers, including Jared and Jesse Dupuis, Devin and Justin Mauro and Noah and Caleb Minns.
GET SET FOR DOUCETTES
The younger brother plays forward, the older brother plays defence!
Brothers Tyson and Jacob Doucette are both entering their first seasons with their hometown Soo Thunderbirds.
Tyson, a 16-year old forward, is entering his first season with the Thunderbirds after spending last season with the GNML’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds while 19 year old defenceman Jacob is coming in after spending the 2018-2019 season with the NOJHL’s Espanola Express.
Thunderbirds rookie forward Tyson Doucette scored twice and set up 11 others in 24 regular season games last season with the Jr. Greyhounds and helped them finish in first place in the GNML standings.
He also had the least penalty minutes on the Jr. Greyhounds with only 6.
Nineteen-year old blueliner Jacob Doucette had 1 goal and 7 assists in 53 games with Espanola Express back in the 2018-2019 season.
He also led the club in penalty minutes with 87.
The Doucette brothers (Tyson and Jacob) are both from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
One Dupuis is returning to the Beavers for his second season, and the other one is coming in as a rookie!
After scoring twice and setting up 14 others in 33 games last season, twenty-year old forward Jared Dupuis is entering his second season with the Beavers while his younger brother Jesse is coming in after spending last season in the GNML.
Seventeen-year old forward Jesse Dupuis spent last season with the GNML’s Timmins Majors, where he finished tied for first in team goals with 16 and finished second in team points with 35 in 36 games.
The Dupuis brothers (Jared and Jesse) both come from Iroquois Falls, Ontario.
What do the Mauro brothers have in common?
Quite a bit actually!
They are both forwards, they both led their GNML clubs in scoring and they are both drafted by Ontario Hockey League teams.
Eighteen-year old forward Justin Mauro is getting set to enter his third season with the Blind River Beavers while his younger brother Devin will be coming in as a rookie.
Justin finished third in team scoring last season with the Beavers with 48 points in 39 games.
In his rookie season with the Beavers back in 2018-2019, Justin had 9 goals and 27 points in 45 regular season games, before scoring twice and setting up three others in eight games during the 2019 postseason.
Prior to joining the Beavers, Justin played the 2017-2018 season with the GNML’s Soo Thunderbirds Minor Midgets hockey club, where he finished first in team scoring with 16 points in 21 games.
Following his season with the Soo Thunderbirds Minor Midgets, Justin was then drafted by the Erie Otters in the 15th round (284th overall) in the 2018 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
Sixteen-year old forward Devin Mauro is entering his rookie season with the Beavers after spending last season with the GNML’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds, where he finished first in team scoring with 62 points in 39 regular season games.
Following his season with the Jr. Greyhounds, Devin was then drafted by the Sudbury Wolves in the 11th round (211th overall) in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
The Mauro brothers (Justin and Devin) are both from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
NATE THE GREAT
He served as the Beavers assistant captain last season, but now he will wear the ‘C’ for the them!
The Blind River Beavers have named third-year defenceman Nathan Balkwill as their team captain for the 2020-2021 season.
Balkwill, who is entering his final season in the NOJHL, finished second in Beavers scoring last season with 50 points in 52 games.
In 104 career regular season games with the Beavers, the Coldwater, Ontario native has 9 goals, 69 points and 239 penalty minutes.
Balkwill also led the NOJHL in penalty minutes in his first two seasons from 2018-2020.
YOU HAVE TWO MINNS
They both started their junior hockey careers together in Elliot Lake, and now they are together again in Blind River.
We’re talking about brothers Noah and Caleb Minns!
Twenty-year old forward Noah Minns began last season in the in the OJHL, where he split time with the Aurora Tigers and Collingwood Colts, before being traded to the NOJHL’s Blind River Beavers back on January 10th, 2020.
Noah ended up scoring 8 times and setting up 23 others in 15 games as a member of the Beavers.
The twenty-year old forward began his NOJHL career with the Elliot Lake Wildcats back in the 2018-2019 season, where he led the club in scoring with 20 goals and 58 points in 56 regular season games.
In 2019, Noah also became the first player in Wildcats history to be named the NOJHL’s Rookie of the Year.
Eighteen-year old forward Caleb Minns began his junior hockey career with the Elliot Lake Wildcats back in 2018-2019, where he scored 14 times and set up 19 others in 56 regular season games.
Last season, Caleb suited up for theee teams, including the OJHL’s Aurora Tigers, the PJCHL’s Stayner Siskins and the NOJHL’s Blind River Beavers.
On the day before Halloween, the Blind River Beavers traded 2000 birth year defenceman Jake Hagen to the PJHL’s Georgina Ice in exchange for a player development fee.
The twenty-year old defenceman from Scarborough, Ontario began the 2019-2020 season with the French River Rapids, where he had a goal and an assist in twenty games played, before being traded to the 2019 Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy champion Hearst Lumberjacks, where he had one goal in twelve games.
After being traded from the Lumberjacks to the Beavers back on January 10th, 2020, the Scarborough, Ontario product then recorded one assist in seven games as a member of the Beavers.
Hagen, who will now begin the 2020-2021 season with the PJHL’s Georgina Ice, is no stranger to that organization as he played 14 games with them back in the 2018-2019 season, where he recorded 2 assists and 8 penalty minutes.
He also played in nine games with the Ice during the 2017-2018 season, where he had one assist.
THE HARDEST WORKING BEAVER HAS GRADUATED
At the end of last season, the Blind River Beavers have lost their former captain and all-time scoring leader Caleb Serre to graduation.
Serre, who played four seasons with his hometown Beavers from 2016-2020, set many team records, including most career points (269), most career goals (117), most career assists (152) and most career games played (210).
The former Beavers captain also led the NOJHL in scoring last season with 47 goals, 66 assists and 113 points in 55 regular season games.
He also set new team records for most goals (47), assists (66) and points (113) in a regular season.
OH, WHAT A KNIGHT!
He was drafted by the London Knights this past April, but he’s starting the 2020-2021 season in the NOJHL.
Blind River Beavers rookie defenceman Mason Chitaroni is entering his first season in the NOJHL after spending last season with the GNML’s Soo Jr. Greyhounds, where he notched 6 goals and 13 assists in 39 regular season games.
He also played three games as an affiliate player with the Beavers during the 2019-2020 regular season, where he recorded 2 penalty minutes.
Chitaroni, who helped the Jr. Greyhounds finish in first place in the GNML’s standings last season, then went on to be selected by the London Knights in the 5th round (99th overall) in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
SON IN GOAL
After spending last season with the defending GNML regular season champion Soo Jr. Greyhounds, 2003 birth year netminder Gavin Disano will be entering his first full season in the NOJHL with the Blind River Beavers.
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native also played one game as an affiliate player with the Soo Thunderbirds during the 2019-2020 regular season.
Last season with the Jr. Greyhounds, Disano posted a 2.57 goals against average and one shutout in 19 games.
Gavin is also the son of Blind River Beavers assistant coach Jamie Disano.
WHY OH WYATT?
After suiting up in six games between the pipes in his rookie season in 2019-2020, nineteen-year old netminder Wyatt Courchaine is getting set to enter his second season with the Blind River Beavers.
Last season in Blind River, the native of Bolton Landing, New York had 5 wins, 0 losses, a 2.42 goals against average and a .924 save percentage in six games.
Blind River Beavers head coach Kyle Brick is entering his fifth season behind the bench.
In his first four seasons behind the bench with the Beavers from 2016-2020, the thirty four year old has a record of 127 wins, 78 losses, 14 overtime losses and 5 shootout losses.
THE FINE YOUNG THUNDERBIRDS
They both have the last name Young!
They are both twenty years old!
And they both play for the Thunderbirds!
Twenty-year old goaltender Scott Young is entering his first season with the Thunderbirds after spending last season over in Sweden while 2000 birth year defenceman Warner Young is coming back for his second and final season with the Thunderbirds after a successful rookie season in 2019-2020.
Thunderbirds netminder Scott Young, who stands 6’5 and weighs 205 pounds, signed with the Thunderbirds this past offseason after spending last season with the J20 Division 1 Kulma HC Black Bulls.
The Calgary, Alberta native made 54 saves for the Thunderbirds in a 6-1 preseason victory over the Blind River Beavers back on November 6th at the John Rhodes Community Centre.
Twenty-year old defenceman Warner Young is returning to the Thunderbirds for his second and final season after leading all team defencemen in scoring last season with 3 goals and 28 assists in 53 games.
Young’s 28 assists also tied the Thunderbirds record for most assists by a rookie defenceman in a regular season, joining Steven Bellini (2018) and Barnabas Birkeland (2003).
The Newberry, Michigan product will serve as an assistant captain for the Thunderbirds home games during the 2020-2021 season.
DON’T BUGEJA ME!
Soo Thunderbirds newly signed netminder Alex Bugeja finished the 2020 preseason with a .926 save percentage in one game played.
The West Vancouver, British Columbia native made 49 saves in a 7-4 preseason victory over the Blind River Beavers back on November 7th in Blind River.
(Photo by Bob Davies)