One of three minor midget teams in a loop that also includes six major midget entries, Soo Thunderbirds sit at the bottom of the Great North Midget Hockey League standings.
But Jamie Henderson, who is the head coach of the first-year Soo minor midget squad, is unfazed by the Thunderbirds 1-8-3 record through 12 regular season matches.
Since the day he took the job with the Soo minor midgets mid way through the summer months, Henderson has been preaching player development. And the first two and a half months of the 2017-2018 campaign — which has included two tournaments in addition to the regular season games — has seen no change in Henderson’s philosophy.
“I am not interested in team record or rankings,” Henderson said evenly. “We are in this to make 19 kids better players and people tomorrow than they are today.”
A married man, Henderson and his wife Maggie recently became first time parents to a son, Brady. And as Henderson has a passion for his wife and their son, the hockey fires burn deep within him.
A consummate volunteer, Henderson has logged thousands of hours over the years — and with success — as a high school hockey assistant coach with the St. Mary’s Knights, an assistant coach and general manager with the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and a coaching assistant with the Lake Superior State University Lakers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The reputable Kevin Cain, who has also seen his share of NOJHL championship success with both the erstwhile Michigan Soo Indians and the aforementioned Thunderbirds, now helps out the Soo minor midgets as their general manager. And Cain is of the notion that the Soo minor midgets are in very good coaching hands with Henderson at the helm.
“Not only is Jamie a coach who puts a lot of time and preparation in to what he does, he is a really good coach as well,” said Cain. “He and his staff put a lot of time and attention to detail in an effort to make the kids better and accountable. There is not a coach out there who is going to out work Jamie. And he is only going to get better and better as a coach.
“Our players continue to learn and show marked improvement thanks to the knowledge and the work put in by Jamie and his staff,” Cain added.
“I really, truly believe that those players who are playing with the Soo minor midget program are getting quality coaching, structure and schedule. The program can’t be built overnight but the coaches have done a great job building confidence in the players,” Cain summed up.
Thus far, the high point of the 2017-2018 season for the Thunderbirds came in their most recent Great North outing when, backed by the spectacular net minding of goalie Noah Zeppa, the Soo minor midgets posted their first ever league victory with a 3-2 triumph over the major midget North Bay Trappers.
North Bay leads the entire Great North loop with a record of 15-2-1, so beating the major midget Trappers was a miracle on ice of sorts for the minor midget Thunderbirds.
“Unbelievable,” was a word both Cain and Henderson used to describe the Soo win over North Bay.
With a roster made up entirely of 2002 birth year skaters except for 2003 birth year defenseman Jack Matier, the Thunderbird minor midgets have players who are eligible for the 2018 Ontario Hockey League draft. And while there is never really a certainty in hockey, more than one OHL general manager and scout has been inquiring about players relative to the Soo minor midgets.
Statistically, Justin Mauro leads the Thunderbird midgets in scoring with seven goals, five assists, 12 points.
Following Mauro are fellow forwards Brock Santa Maria with 2-7-9 totals, Cooper Smyl at 3-4-7, Michael Chaffay at 5-1-6, Jason McCormick at 3-3-6, Michael Neveau at 3-3-6 and defensemen Mateo Perri at 0-6-6 and the aforementioned Matier at 1-3-4.
Between the pipes, the aforementioned Zeppa has accounted for all of the Thunderbird points with a 1-3-3 record and 4.21 goals against average while routinely facing 50 plus shots per outing.
Overall, in their 12 Great North league games, the Thunderbirds have scored 28 goals and allowed 76.
“We are a work in progress,” Henderson has stated on many occasions. “And I like to think that we are a good work in progress.”
PHOTO: Jack Matier of the Soo Thunderbirds minor midgets, in early-season action. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)