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.