There is mindful optimism — even if it is from reading between the lines — that there will be a 2020-2021 junior hockey season.
And Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League will be a nice mix of old and new once teams are able to stick handle around the COVID-19 obstacle.
Incoming head coach Denny Lambert and his bench staff will be looking to work from the inside and outside as the Thunderbirds move on from a 2019-2020 season in which they finished in third place in the West Division with a record of 30-19-7.
The 50-year old Lambert, who played and coached with distinction in the Ontario Hockey League and who is a warhorse of over 500 National Hockey League games as an overachieving left winger, takes the helm of the Thunderbirds from John Parco, who led the Soo squad to three successive winning seasons before a mutual parting of ways with team management.
The Thunderbirds can return several skaters from the 2019-2020 edition including local products Jacob Kovacs, Avery Rebek, Cooper Smyl, Camden Findlay, Brock Santa Maria, Kurtis Rogers and Tristan Cicchello.
All are forwards with the exception of Cicchello, who garnered 24 points from his defense post in 2019-2020.
Kovacs topped the T-Bird scoring chart with 27 goals, 31 assists, 58 points last season and was drafted by the Barrie Colts in the 13th round of this year’s Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
And of note, the veteran Rebek totaled 15 goals, 27 assists, 42 points while the rookie Smyl earned his place in the lineup with 16 goals, 15 assists, 31 points.
Now, as Lambert and general manager Trev Zachary look to add rookie talent to the T-Birds for the 2020-2021 NOJHL season, there are more local kids who are likely to be a part of the roster.
In fact, the Thunderbirds are soon expected to confirm the commitments of a couple of high scoring graduates from the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League for the upcoming season.