In true homegrown fashion, the Soo Thunderbirds have already signed 11 — yes, 11 — local skaters ahead of the 2020-2021 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League season.
In alphabetical order, the list of local Birds is as follows.
Michael Chaffay. A 2002 birth year forward, Chaffay was second on the Soo Jr. Greyhounds and fifth on the Great North Midget Hockey League scoring parade in 2019-2020 with 34 goals, 19 assists, 53 points. The affable youngster paid his dues by playing three full seasons of midget hockey in the Great North and improved his overall game under the coaching of Jamie Henderson.
Tyson Doucette. A 2004 birth year forward, the 5-foot-8, 140 pound Doucette — he has grown several inches over the past few months — had modest totals with the Jr. Greyhound midgets in 2019-2020, totaling 13 points from two goals and 11 assists in 24 regular season games. He has strong athletic bloodlines from both sides of his family and is known for his hockey smarts. The youngster makes the jump to the junior A ranks despite having two seasons of midget eligibility remaining. But Thunderbird management and the coaching staff has deemed the determined Doucette to be ready for the next step.
Kaden Dundas. A 2003 birth year defenseman, Dundas is moving up to the Thunderbirds and the NOJHL after two seasons with the Korah Colts high school hockey program under the good coaching of Greg Arbour.
Parker Morgan. A 2000 birth year forward, Morgan played the past two seasons for the Sault College Cougars of the American Collegiate Hockey Association where he totaled 16 goals, 20 assists, 36 points in 56 games while greatly developing his game under crackerjack coach Mike Hall.
Avery Rebek. A 2000 birth year forward, Rebek netted 15 goals, 27 assists, 42 points as a top performer for the Thunderbirds in 2019-2020. He is a son of former Ontario Hockey League (Owen Sound Attack) and European pro defenseman Jeremy Rebek.
Kurtis Rogers. A 2001 birth year forward, the hard-toiling Rogers hustled his way to 11-3-14 totals for the Thunderbirds last season.
Brock Santa Maria. Another 2002 birth year forward, Santa Maria came through with 7-12-19 numbers despite limited ice time as a rookie last season.
Cooper Smyl. A 2002 birth year forward, Smyl produced 31 points, including 16 goals, and made an immediate impression as a rookie forward in the NOJHL for the Thunderbirds in 2019-2020.
Connor Toms. A 2004 birth year defenseman, Toms was a third round pick, 44th overall, by the Soo Greyhounds at the 2020 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft. He netted nine goals, 17 assists, 26 points in 38 regular season games for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League in 2019-2020. He is the son of Jeff Toms, a former star left winger with the 1993 Memorial Cup champion Soo Greyhounds who went on to play in 237 games in the National Hockey League and several seasons of high level pro hockey in Europe.
Caleb Wood. A forward with a 2000 birth date, Wood played the past two NOJHL seasons with the Michigan Soo Eagles. In total, Wood played in 111 NOJHL games for the Eagles and was a productive performer with 39 goals, 35 assists, 74 points.
Ty Zachary. A 2002 birth year forward, Zachary was fourth on the Greyhound midget scoring chart and 15th in Great North league scoring in 2019-2020 with 11 goals, 28 assists, 39 points. He has a work ethic that is second to none.
A new look, all local coaching staff will debut with the Thunderbirds for the 2020-2021 season and its members are well known and reputable on the high performance hockey stage.
Denny Lambert will be the Thunderbirds head coach with Jeremy Stevenson, Gary Roach, Micky Sartoretto and Aidan Wright on staff as assistants.
The change in bench leadership came after John Parco stepped down as head coach of the Thunderbirds after three successive winning seasons — including a 30-19-7 mark in 2019-2020 — at the helm of the NOJHL team. Parco has since accepted an executive position with the Italian Ice Hockey Federation, as was first reported by Hockey News North.
As for Parco’s replacement, Lambert heads to the Thunderbirds and the NOJHL with a deep hockey history.
The 50-year old Lambert played three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League for the Soo Greyhounds as a fearless left winger who went on to play in more than 500 National Hockey League games, including playoffs.
Lambert’s coaching experience includes eight seasons in the OHL with the Greyhounds — three as head coach. He also coached the Batchewana Attack of the erstwhile Canadian International Hockey League to a championship in its only season of existence.
As for the 46-year old Stevenson, he is also a former left winger with the Greyhounds — he actually began his OHL playing career with the Cornwall Royals — who went to play in more than 225 NHL games, including playoffs.
And the 45-year old Roach is another former Greyhound, having patrolled the blue line of the red and white from 1991 to 1995 before being traded to the North Bay Centennials in what was a blockbuster OHL deal back then. Roach was a part of the Greyhounds 1993 Memorial Cup championship team.
The 29-year old Sartoretto is yet another former OHL winger, having played three seasons with the Kitchener Rangers and Saginaw Spirit. He then closed out his junior career as captain of his hometown Soo Thunderbirds, leading them to the NOJHL championship.
And the 27-year old Wright is a former high-end defenseman who played four seasons of Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association hockey with the Lake Superior State University Lakers.
Of note, Stevenson, Sartoretto and Wright all have combined, extensive coaching experience within the Sault Major Hockey Association.