Best of the NOJHL West

November 2, 2014

They are perched atop the four-team West Division and have the best record in the nine-member Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

That notation aside, Soo Thunderbirds are not alone as elite members of the NOJHL.

Sudbury Nickel Barons and the surprising Elliot Lake Wildcats are within close range of the Thunderbirds on the West side while the defending NOJHL champion Kirkland Lake Gold Miners are the beasts of the East.

Still, with a record of 14-2 — and winners of 12 straight games — the Thunderbirds are taking another run at an NOJHL championship that barely eluded them in 2013-2014 following a 99-point regular season.

Offensively, the Thunderbirds have nine forwards who are averaging close-to, or more-than, a point-per-game.

Seasoned front-liners Nic Tassone, Jaren Bellini, Anthony Miller, Joey Miller, Matt Pinder, Nathan Hebert and Eric Hillock have putting the points on the scoreboard as have rave rookies Nic Sicoly and Matt Caruso.

Among the veterans, Tassone is tapping it all together as a last-year junior and has become more of a go-to-guy in the offensive scheme of the Thunderbirds this season.

Then there is Bellini, a 1996 birth-year and erstwhile Ontario Hockey League draft pick of the Soo Greyhounds, who seems to be settling in as a productive NOJHLer and could — if he chooses — play up to two more seasons at the junior level after this one.

On the blueline, last-year junior David Radke has returned from a stint in the North American Hockey League with the Janesville Jets and is considered to be one of the top defencemen in the NOJHL.

Radke pilots the Thunderbird power play and along with fellow defenceman Brandon Grandinetti, adds experience and character to a Soo squad that has been playing without Owen Headrick on the blueline.

Just 17-years old but already in his second season with the Thunderbirds, Headrick recently underwent shoulder surgery. A plum prospect, to be sure, Headrick has a full-ride scholarship commitment to play at the Division 1 level for the Lake Superior State University Lakers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, likely beginning in 2015-2016.

As part of a Thunderbirds program that has a good history of producing top goalies who have moved on to the Canadian and American university levels — Frank Novello, Ryan Dube and Michael Doan, to name three — the Soo is once again above-average between the pipes in 2014-2015.

Second-year backstop Brian Kment and rookie Mario Culina have shared the twine-tending duties for the Thunderbirds thus far this season and have not disappointed with their performances.

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