Birds of different feathers

Randy Russon
January 20, 2019

They are two teams that represent the AAA midget hockey level in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Having said that, the Soo Major Thunderbirds and Soo Minor Thunderbirds are studies in contrast.

Both are members of the unbalanced Great North Midget Hockey League. The Major Thunderbirds are one of six major midget teams and the Minor Thunderbirds are one of three minor midget squads.

Major midget teams play a 36-game, regular-season schedule within the Great North. Minor midget teams play a lesser 24-game schedule as part of the Great North slate.

From a Sault Ste. Marie side, the Major Thunderbirds and Minor Thunderbirds have faced off against one another twice this season.

And the younger Minor Thunderbirds, who are made up entirely of players with 2003 birth dates, have won both games — by 3-2 and 4-2 scores — against the Major Thunderbirds, whose players were born in either 2002 or 2001.

Overall, with the regular season schedule winding down for both teams, the Minor Thunderbirds have the better record, which is a mark of 9-10-4 with one game left to play. Meanwhile, the Major Thunderbirds have a record of 11-23-0 with two games still to play on their regular season slate.

Meanwhile, there is an astounding difference in team discipline.

Through their 34 league games to date, the Major Thunderbirds have spent a league high — by far — 810 minutes in the penalty box. Those staggering numbers equate to the Major Thunderbirds spending an average of 24 minutes per game in the penalty box.

On the opposite end, the Minor Thunderbirds have served only 215 minutes in penalties through 23 league games. At an average of just 9.3 minutes in penalties per game, the Minor Thunderbirds are the least penalized club, by far, of any of the nine teams who play within the Great North.

Looking ahead at the upcoming playoffs in the Great North, the six major midget teams will all take part with the two top clubs getting an opening-round bye. Right now, the Major Thunderbirds are in fourth place and figure to play the fifth-place Timmins Majors in the first round of the playoffs.

The three minor midget teams — the Soo, Sudbury Wolves and North Bay Trappers — do not participate in the Great North playoffs. Rather, they take part in an end of the season tournament that includes other minor midget competition from northern Ontario, specifically Thunder Bay.


None of the players on the Major Thunderbirds were picked during their minor midget season at the 2017 or 2018 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.

However, 2002 birth year goalie Noah Zeppa is having a notable 2018-2019 season with the Major Thunderbirds and has drawn the attention of a few OHL general managers and scouts.

Zeppa, who has a December birth date, has grown to 5-foot-11, 160 pounds. He has eight of the 11 wins for the Major Thunderbirds within the Great North and has a very respectable goals against average of 3.81 on a penalty prone team.

By comparison, when Zeppa is not in net, the Major Thunderbirds have an inflated goals against average of 5.91.

At any rate, Zeppa could still be picked at the three-round, major midget, supplemental OHL draft this year, which will take place in April following the annual priority selections draft that focuses on minor midget aged players.

At the least, Zeppa should earn an invitation to an OHL training camp prior to the start of the 2019-2020 season.

Meanwhile, five players on the Minor Thunderbirds loom as possible to highly probable picks at April’s OHL priority selections draft.

Topping the list of prospects from the Minor Thunderbirds for this year’s priority selections draft are defensemen Jack Matier and Tyler Dunbar.

Wide-ranging projections are for the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Matier and the 6-foot, 175-pound Dunbar to be drafted within the top three rounds. Of note, Dunbar, who just turned 15 on December 18, 2018, is one of the youngest players eligible for the upcoming 2019 draft.

Others from the Minor Thunderbirds who have attracted more than a passing interest from the OHL scouts are defenseman Thomas Irwin and forwards Stephen Pszeniczny and Jake Kovacs.

Irwin stands in at 6-foot, 170 pounds while Pszeniczny is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. Kovacs is only 5-foot-6, 140 pounds but leads the Minor Thunderbirds in scoring with 11 goals, 13 assists, 24 points in 23 games.

Pszeniczny, Matier and Dunbar are also among the Minor Thunderbirds scoring leaders.

Pszeniczny and Matier have identical totals of 9 goals, 11 assists, 20 points. And Dunbar, like Matier, is also a high-scoring defender with 4 goals, 12 assists, 16 points.

Looking good, it would seem, are local prospects for this year’s OHL draft.

PHOTO: Forwards Ethan Novello and Jake Kovacs of the Soo Minor Thunderbirds go offensive on defenseman Jordan Ritchie of the Soo Major Thunderbirds in Great North Midget Hockey League action from this season. (Photo by Bob Davies.)

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