It is another branch on the hockey tree.
The climb from major midget to junior A hockey is one that some opt to make sooner than others.
But in this case, a pair of more than capable forwards in Michael Chaffay and Ty Zachary took their time in moving up from the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League to the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
A dandy duo of 2002 birth year forwards, Chaffay and Zachary recently signed up to play for their hometown Thunderbirds and new head coach Denny Lambert after a productive final term of development with the Jr. Greyhounds this past season.
Chaffay — who just recently turned 18 years of age — was second on the Jr. Greyhounds and fifth in league scoring in 2019-2020 with 34 goals, 19 assists, 53 points.
And Zachary — who turns 18 next month — was fourth on the Jr. Greyhounds scoring chart and 15th in league scoring in 2019-2020 with 11 goals, 28 assists, 39 points.
Both chose to utilize their third and final season of midget hockey eligibility by playing the 2019-2020 campaign for the Jr. Greyhounds, who finished atop the standings in the nine team Great North loop.
Jr. Greyhounds head coach Jamie Henderson told Hockey News North that he believes both Chaffay and Zachary gained from playing out their midget eligibility.
“Both Michael and Ty really used last summer to prepare for their final season and their dedication really showed as the season began. They earned leadership roles with our team and really led us both on and off the ice all season,” Henderson noted.
“They were two examples in the league of players who gained confidence as 17 year olds and you could really see their games mature as the season went on.
“That final season of under 18 hockey really prepares many players to not only make the next step but when they get there they should be able to make solid contributions.
“We are excited to see Michael and Ty move up and put on the Thunderbirds sweater next season … our program will certainly miss them,” Henderson added.
And both Chaffay and Zachary have been on record as saying that they made a good choice in playing out their full midget eligibility.
Of note, both players were able to experience the best of both worlds last season in gaining valuable NOJHL experience as affiliate players of the Thunderbirds.
Chaffay got into eight games with the Thunderbirds and produced one goal, three assists, four points while Zachary posted 1-2-3 totals in seven outings with the local NOJHL team.
Meanwhile, in getting commitments from the two local skaters for the 2020-2021 season, Thunderbirds general manager Trev Zachary told Hockey News North that both forwards certainly have what it takes to play at the NOJHL level.
“Michael has been a model of consistency for the last few years proving to everyone that his game is next level,” Zachary said of Chaffay.
“Scoring 34 goals in 35 games this past season for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds, he has demonstrated what it will take to play junior hockey.
“Michael plays with a chip on his shoulder, has an above average shot and brings his passion for the game to the rink every day. He brings key attributes that the Soo Thunderbirds will build around,” Zachary added in further praise of Chaffay.
And the Thunderbirds GM knows all about young Zachary’s past.
“Ty brings a level of commitment and consistency that’s important at the junior level,” Zachary said of the determined youngster.
“After missing his entire major bantam season and half of his minor midget season due to tumour causing fractures in his femur, then surgery and rehabilitation at the Shriners Hospital in Montreal, Ty has proven that hard work and dedication to the game is paying off.
“Ty’s leadership, play-making abilities, and work ethic will be major contributors to his success with the Thunderbirds,” Zachary added.
From a local interest standpoint, the additions of Chaffay and Zachary are poised to be nice extensions of Sault Ste. Marie talent on the Thunderbirds.
That is, the Thunderbirds can return several local kids from the 2019-2020 edition including Jacob Kovacs, Avery Rebek, Cooper Smyl, Camden Findlay, Brock Santa Maria, Kurtis Rogers and Tristan Cicchello.
All are forwards with the exception of the free-wheeling Cicchello, who garnered two goals, 22 assists 24 points in just 45 games 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 more than earned his place in the lineup with 16 goals, 15 assists, 31 points.
The other three were all useful, serviceable performers and contributed offensively.
Findlay netted six goals, 14 assists, 20 points, Santa Maria posted 7-12-19 totals while the relentless Rogers chipped in with 11-3-14 numbers.
And while it is not a certainty that all of the above will return to the Thunderbirds for the upcoming season — for example, Kovacs will try to make it to the OHL with Barrie while Cicchello is seriously considering going to school at Cambrian College in Sudbury — a strong local presence is part of the Thunderbirds mandate.
Just as is the progression from major midget to junior A hockey.