The fact that the Soo Thunderbirds went winless in losing all four of their games at the recent 10 team, Centennial Cup national junior A hockey championship tournament only tells part of the story.
Another side to the story is that the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League champions did not match up experience or age wise with any of the four teams that they faced on the national stage.
Here are the older player facts relative to the Thunderbirds and the teams they faced.
• The Soo had four players born in 2001 and six who were born in 2002.
• The Manitoba Jr. Hockey League champion Dauphin Kings had eight players born in 2001 and six who were born in 2002.
• The Central Canada Hockey League champion Ottawa Jr. Senators had seven players born in 2001 and eight who were born in 2002.
• The Maritime Jr. Hockey League champion Summerside Capitals had eight players born in 2001 and 10 who were born in 2002.
• And the Saskatchewan Jr. Hockey League champion Flin Flon Bombers had eight players born in 2001 and 11 players who were born in 2002.
Get the picture? Among older players in the 19 and 20 year old age group, the Thunderbirds were far less experienced than any of the four teams they faced at the Centennial Cup tournament. Which may explain a lot of why the Thunderbirds went winless in the games they played against their fellow league champions.
Then there is the fact that, unlike the other competitors at the national event, the Thunderbirds stood out as a team focused mainly on developing local talent. Of the 24 players on the Thunderbirds roster, no less than 16 are local products.
So, for those fans who celebrated the Thunderbirds winning the NOJHL championship as one of the youngest teams in their league and are wondering why the Soo came up empty at the Centennial Cup, just consider that their lack of experience caught up with them when playing other champions from other leagues.
As NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca told me following the Centennial Cup tournament, the youthful talent of the Thunderbirds really stood out — but so did the Soo’s lack of experience compared to their opponents.
At the end of the day, the Thunderbirds remain the epitome of a junior A franchise that is focused on developing young and local talent.
Take a bow, baby Birds.