The recent addition of a pair of 1995 birth-year forwards via trade has just about shut the door on any rookie skater who has aspirations of securing a roster spot with the Soo Thunderbirds for the 2014-2015 campaign.
By acquiring out-of-towners Ryan Erickson and Jake Staples from Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Canada Hockey League in exchange for goalie Joel Horodziejzcyk, the number of veteran forwards who can play for the Soo’s Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League team in 2014-2015 now stands at 12.
To be sure, one or more of the 12 veteran forwards could wind up playing elsewhere in 2014-2015 but as of now the Thunderbirds have enough skaters to fill four full lines with Erickson, Staples, Grant Syrette, Anthony Miller, Joey Miller, Nic Tassone, Jaren Bellini, Riley Bordin, Nathan Hebert, Matthew Mitchell, Eric Hillock and Brett Jeffries.
Which explains why Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain was reluctant to sign any rookie forwards from the impressive lot who showed at the team’s spring tryout camp last month, opting instead to only commit to a pair of first-year defencemen in Alex Morin and Matt Murray.
Rookie forwards who attended the Thunderbird tryout camp who look ready for junior hockey in 2014-2015 include a trio of 1997 birth-year skaters from the Soo — Matt Caruso, Jacob Palmerio and Jason Uhl.
But with 12 veteran forwards eligible to return to the Thunderbirds in 2014-2015, where does that leave Caruso, Palmerio and Uhl?
The three, who were teammates with the Soo Thunder minor midgets in 2012-2013, took different paths in 2013-2014 — Caruso and Palmerio left town to play major midget while Uhl stayed home and played high school hockey.
Looking ahead to 2014-2015, all three could play with the new Soo Thunderbirds of the Great North Midget Hockey League or suit up for their respective high school teams.
Or, if they are determined to play junior hockey — and frankly, all three are ready to advance beyond major midget and high school — nearby options include the Blind River Beavers of the NOJHL, the Espanola Rivermen of the new Canadian International Hockey League and the Soo Firehawks of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League. (I would also include the Soo Eagles of the North American Hockey League but as of now, their four import spots for 2014-2015 are taken.)
In addition to Espanola, the new CIHL could present other northern Ontario options for players such as Caruso, Palmerio and Uhl — not to mention a host of other area youngsters.
That’s because the CIHL — which will begin play in 2014-2015 — is expected to announce which teams will comprise the new Ontario-based junior league in the days and few weeks ahead.