Birds of high flight

Randy Russon
April 26, 2019

Having the best record during the 2018-2019 regular season did not carry over to winning the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League playoff championship for the Soo Thunderbirds.

The no. 1 seed Thunderbirds came up a match short to the no. 2 seed Hearst Lumberjacks in the NOJHL finals, losing 6-3 on home ice in the seventh-and-deciding game of the league championship series.

It was a tough way to go out for the West Division champion Thunderbirds, who had finished 16 points ahead of the East Division champion Lumberjacks during the regular season.

Still, a regular-season record of 44-11-1 that produced 89 points followed by a playoff mark of 11-8 that ended in the NOJHL finals added up to a really-good season for head coach John Parco and his Thunderbirds.

Looking ahead to the 2019-2020 season, the Thunderbirds can return all but four of their players from the 2018-2019 team. The list of eligible returnees includes top scorers Lucas Theriault, Noah Boman and Nick Smith.

Others who can return next season include serviceable forwards Matthew Bazarin, Nolan Ford and Avery Rebek and a crew of better than average defensemen from among Steven Bellini, Bradon Caruso, Tristan Cicchello and Jonathan Mackin.

Starting goalie Colin Ahern and backup William Anderson also have junior eligibility remaining.

Meanwhile, even though all of the above can return to the Thunderbirds for next season, some will have the opportunity to move on, be it ascension to the Ontario Hockey League or a college program — or a lateral move to another Junior A level loop.

In that case, the Thunderbirds have a number of players from the local midget ranks that they can look to — among others — when they stage their spring tryout camp on the May 11-12 weekend.

As for the coaching staff, the 47-year old Parco has indicated he would like to return for a third season at the helm.

However, associate coach Toots Kovacs has officially confirmed to Hockey News North that he won’t be back with the Thunderbirds next season.

Several weeks ago, Kovacs relayed that he had informed Parco and Thunderbirds management that he would be “done” following the 2018-2019 season.

Kovacs said his decision will allow him to focus more on his volunteer position with the Sault Major Hockey Association as its AAA league director.

And Kovacs also noted that while he enjoyed a “great relationship” with Parco and assistant coach Marc Disano, he had “issues” with Thunderbirds management.

What you think about “Birds of high flight”

  1. I keep wondering how the Thunderbirds are able to keep afloat with the small crowds that support them. Year after year they have very good teams but get no support. I have to give a lot of credit to the people that keep this team running because I’m sure it’ not for the money.

    1. They get a lot of corporate sponsorship via advertising at John Rhodes Community Centre and players are paying $5,000 a year to play.

  2. The T-Birds have it too easy. The teams they play the majority of the time are no competition to them. If they played more of the HWY 11 teams they would either get better or take their place where they should be. The games I saw them play had the coaching staff pull out every trick to try to win. When I look at their attendance at each game I shake my head. All that talent playing to so few people. Our Midget Eskimos in Iroquois Falls get better turn out on a -30 degree Tuesday night in January just to get a Hockey fix and these guys are paying to play in front of nobody but Visitors. I would welcome such a team to the Igloo and give them a good home.

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