Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League could be under new operation and executive management ahead of the 2019-2020 season.
Local businessman Darren Smyl has operated the Thunderbirds as president and chief operator for two full seasons after taking over from The Tech 1921 Ltd. in 2017.
But other than change the team’s long-standing colours from black-red-and-white to orange-blue-and-white, Smyl has made little difference in how the Thunderbirds are followed locally.
In fact, with a per-game, average attendance of 198 during the 2018-2019 campaign — regular season and playoffs included — the Thunderbirds were the least-supported team in the 12-member NOJHL.
On the ice was a different story, however, as second-year coach John Parco led the Thunderbirds to first place overall during the regular season and to a seventh-and-deciding game of the playoff championship series only to be upset by the Hearst Lumberjacks.
At any rate, with Smyl now openly trying to transfer his financial stake in the Thunderbirds to a new operator, the team did recently sign his son, Cooper, a 2002 birth-year forward.
Since entering the NOJHL in 1999, the Thunderbirds have had a number of operators including Sam Biasucci, the tandem of Pat Egan and Al Jones, Albert Giommi, the Tech 1921 Ltd., and Smyl.
With Giommi as president and Kevin Cain as general manager, the Thunderbirds enjoyed their most success in franchise history between 2012 and 2016, winning three league titles and a pair of Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada championships.