Birds sale to Cole Jarrett and Trevor Daley results in new coach and general manager
Two friends with prime time backgrounds have teamed up to take over the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. Good citizens Cole Jarrett and Trevor Daley have obtained operational control of the Thunderbirds from local businessman Darren Smyl. The website Hockey News North was first to break the story of the sale. Smyl had presided over the Thunderbirds since 2017. Besides operating the team, Jarrett will be the head coach of the Thunderbirds, he affirmed. Jarrett and Daley were both drafted into the Ontario Hockey League in 1999 as players born in 1983. A Sault Ste. Marie product, Jarrett was a third round pick (44th overall) of the Plymouth Whalers (now Flint Firebirds) while Daley was a first round selection (10th overall) by the Soo Greyhounds. Both players would play four seasons in the OHL and develop as standout defencemen who captained their respective teams. A natural leader, Jarrett was a captain on just about every team he ever played on, including in the OHL with Plymouth. And even though he is somewhat on the laid back side, Jarrett is, as the new coach of the NOJHL Thunderbirds, poised to pass on much of what he learned and experienced during his lengthy OHL and professional career. Jarrett’s pro career took him to the American Hockey League, the National Hockey League and overseas to Finland, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Japan and England. He has since been involved in minor hockey in the Sault as a director and a coach after returning home with his wife and their two kids following his retirement as a player in 2018. Besides coaching the Thunderbirds, Jarrett will coach within the Sault Major Hockey Association in 2021-2022 as part of the under-11 program. As for the personable Daley, the Toronto product has an association to Sault Ste. Marie besides having played for the Greyhounds, given that his wife is from the Sault and they maintain a residence in the area. Daley, to be sure, had an outstanding pro career after graduating from the OHL and the Greyhounds. A second round pick by the Dallas Stars at the 2002 NHL draft, Daley would go on to play 16 seasons at the game’s highest level, skating in more than 1,100 games, playoffs included. Besides Dallas, Daley also suited up for the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. He retired as an NHL player in 2020 and took a job as a hockey operations adviser with the NHL Penguins. Back to Jarrett, he told Sault This Week he wants to build on the local player tradition that the Thunderbirds have had since entering the NOJHL back in 1999. (Ironically, Jarrett’s younger brother, Pat Jarrett, was a top center for the Thunderbirds during their inaugural NOJHL season of 1999-2000. At that time, an uncle, Bart Jarrett coached the Thunderbirds.) “We have a plan and a lot of it involves development of local players who want to eventually move on to the next level,” said Jarrett, in taking over as an operator and new coach of the Thunderbirds. “We want to build on and carry on the tradition of the Thunderbirds and the previous local operators. And there are the coaches who have been here before me, guys who I have so much respect for, like Jordan Smith, John Parco and Denny Lambert. These are guys who I look up to.” Meanwhile, Jarrett also noted that long-time local hockey coach Jamie Henderson will be a key part of the Thunderbirds as the new general manager. Known for his ongoing commitment and dedication as part of the Sault Ste. Marie hockey scene, Henderson lives and breathes the game and has been a mentor and promoter of a number of young players over the years. “We are so excited for what this means for 15- to 20-year-old kids in the Sault,” exclaimed Henderson. “You will see it starting this fall.” Besides his duties as GM of the NOJHL Thunderbirds, Henderson will also return as coach of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League for the 2021-2022 season. The hard-driven Henderson has a lengthy, successful association with local teams at the NOJHL, Great North, and high school levels. He was an assistant with the Thunderbirds during their NOJHL championship seasons of several years back. Henderson, as the Thunderbirds new GM, will take over that position from Trevor Zachary, who held the job the previous four years. And Jarrett, as the new bench boss of the T-Birds, replaces the aforementioned Denny Lambert, who was with the team for one season as head coach. “As I said, Denny is someone who I look up to … a former pro hockey player and someone whose work as a coach with the Thunderbirds is what we will try to build on,” Jarrett noted. Meanwhile, as the new operators of the franchise, Jarrett and Daley will become the sixth leaders of the Thunderbirds since their 1999 NOJHL inception. From founder Sam Biascucci, the Thunderbirds then went on to a succession of fellow local operators that included Pat Egan/Al Jones to JoAnne Brooks/Albert Giommi to the aforementioned Darren Smyl, who bought the franchise in 2017 from a company known as the The Tech 1921 Ltd. Jarrett, as one of the new operators, paid tribute to Smyl. “We would like to thank Darren for his commitment to growing hockey in Sault Ste. Marie and for allowing us the opportunity to continue the proud, Thunderbird tradition,” noted Jarrett. ••• The aforementioned Darren Smyl said he was not looking to sell the Thunderbirds. But Smyl, who had rescued the Thunderbirds from the verge of folding in 2017, said once he was approached by Trevor Daley and Cole Jarrett about buying the local NOJHL team, a deal gradually came into being. “Since I took over the Thunderbirds four years ago, I had been approached a number of times about selling the team,” Smyl told Sault This Week. “But when it came time to meeting the league’s minimum asking price for a franchise, nothing ever came about. “Then, I would say about two or three months ago, Cole and Trevor approached me about buying the team. We met and we talked a few times and then about two weeks ago, they called me and said they were prepared to put in an offer for the asking price,” Smyl continued. “After that, it was just a matter of having our lawyers finalize things and then (commissioner) Rob Mazzuca and the league approving it.” Smyl said he did make one request of Daley and Jarrett when finalizing the deal. “I asked them if they would keep the Edmonton Oilers colours (orange, blue and white) for at least another year and they agreed,” laughed Smyl, who is originally from Edmonton and is a life-long fan of the National Hockey League Oilers. Smyl added he has grown fond of the NOJHL as a league, noting the “great relationship” that he has with the commissioner’s office and the league executive. And he said he hopes to be able to maintain an affiliation with the league. “I love hockey, you know that, and I really like the NOJHL. And I told Rob (Mazzuca) that if the league could use my assistance or input in any way I would happy to assist in a voluntary capacity,” he noted. A one-time winner of the NOJHL’s executive of the year award, Smyl’s local business interests includes him being the owner of both Highland Ford and Rivercity Motorsports.