Birds of the Soo feather nest with as many as nine local players

Randy Russon

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There is a lot that can happen between now and the start of the 2020-2021 junior hockey season relative to player personnel.
And just as much can change between the beginning of the season and the end of it.
But as it currently stands, Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League have no less than nine local kids who could be a part of the team when the first puck drops on the 2020-2021 campaign.
To be sure, the Thunderbirds figure to be a nice mix of old and new once NOJHL teams are able to stick handle around the COVID-19 obstacle and the 2020-2021 season becomes a reality.
Incoming head coach Denny Lambert and his all new bench staff of assistants Jeremy Stevenson, Micky Sartoretto and Aidan Wright will be looking to work from the inside and outside as the Thunderbirds move on from a 2019-2020 season in which they finished in third place in the West Division with a record of 30-19-7.
The 50-year-old Lambert, who played and coached with distinction in the Ontario Hockey League with the Soo Greyhounds and who is a warhorse of over 500 National Hockey League games as an overachieving left winger, takes the helm of the Thunderbirds from John Parco, who led the Soo squad to three successive winning seasons before a mutual parting of ways with team management earlier this spring.
As for the aforementioned presence of Sault Ste. Marie area talent, the Thunderbirds can return several local kids from the 2019-2020 edition including Jacob Kovacs, Avery Rebek, Cooper Smyl, Camden Findlay, Brock Santa Maria, Kurtis Rogers and Tristan Cicchello.
All are forwards with the exception of the free-wheeling Cicchello, who garnered two goals, 22 assists 24 points in just 45 games from his defence post in 2019-2020.
Kovacs topped the T-Bird scoring chart with 27 goals, 31 assists, 58 points last season and was drafted by the Barrie Colts in the 13th round of this year’s Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
And of note, the veteran Rebek totaled 15 goals, 27 assists, 42 points while the rookie Smyl more than earned his place in the lineup with 16 goals, 15 assists, 31 points.
The other three were all useful, serviceable performers and contributed offensively.
Findlay netted six goals, 14 assists, 20 points, Santa Maria posted 7-12-19 totals while the relentless Rogers chipped in with 11-3-14 numbers.
And just the other day, Thunderbirds general manager Trev Zachary confirmed the signing of two rookie forwards from the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League — Michael Chaffay and Ty Zachary.
Chaffay was second on the Jr. Greyhounds in scoring in 2019-2020 with 34 goals, 19 assists, 53 points in 35 games. And Zachary was no slouch with 11 goals, 28 assists, 39 points — numbers that were fourth highest among Jr. Greyhound skaters.
Meanwhile, Zachary as the general manager told me that the Thunderbirds plan on inviting a number of unsigned local kids to their pre-season training camp.
“We always want to be competitive as a team and we always want to have as many local players capable of playing at this level as we can,” Zachary reasoned.
“Overall, we stand to return a lot of players from last season but there are a number of local kids besides the ones that we have signed that we would like to take a look at,” Zachary added.
It can be said that the more Soo kids the Thunderbirds have on their roster, the better it will be for fan following and local business support.
(Of note, the Thunderbirds were at the bottom of the NOJHL attendance chart in 2019-2020 but they were well supported by the local business community.)
At any rate, as previously noted, as of now the Thunderbirds have nine local kids who could be a part of the program for the upcoming NOJHL season.
Which is a pretty darn good number.