Birds of prey and play

April 24, 2022

They may be the most overwhelming, yet underwhelming junior A hockey team in Canada. They finished the regular season with 18 straight victories and have won eight more in succession through two rounds of the playoffs.

Who are these guys?

They are the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. And the last time they lost a game was back on February 5, which was a 4-0 blanking at the hands of the Powassan Voodoos. That game was only the second of the 2022 segment of the season for the Thunderbirds as the NOJHL was inactive for the month of January as part of the Ontario government shutdown relative to the ‘vid.

Since then, tick off the wins, one by one. Eighteen straight victories to close the 2021-2022 regular season with a league best record of 38-5-5. And thus far in the NOJHL playoffs, the Thunderbirds have carried on with eight successive wins in back to back playoff sweeps of the Blind River Beavers and Soo Eagles.

More impressively, the Thunderbirds have soared despite moving two of their best young players prior to the January trade deadline when 17-year old forward Tyson Doucette and 17-year old defenseman Creo Solomon were dealt to teams in the Ontario Jr. Hockey League. When Thunderbirds general manager Jamie Henderson traded popular local lads Doucette and Solomon in cash transactions it was seen around the NOJHL as a sign that the Soo was not interested in maintaining its position as a league championship contender.

Man, were those who thought that ever wrong. I wondered about the trades as well until Henderson told me that both Doucette and Solomon had designs on playing in the OJHL, which some consider is a rung above the NOJHL.

Whether it is or not is a moot point. Fact of the matter is that the Thunderbirds permitted two good kids and two good players in Doucette and Solomon to move on. Fact of the matter as well is that the Thunderbirds, in the process, have managed to win 26 straight games in an NOJHL that has more than its share of high end teams.

As I previously noted, the Thunderbirds do not have the appearance of being a powerhouse team that looks unbeatable. What they are is a well coached, well balanced, well disciplined team that is on a winning streak for the ages while alternating its two goalies game in and game out. In fact, the goalie rotation has continued through the playoffs where Noah Zeppa and Noah Metivier both have perfect records of 4-0-0.

Laden with local players and well put together by aforementioned GM Jamie Henderson, the Thunderbirds are under the guidance of 39-year old rookie head coach Cole Jarrett, who is also part owner of the team. And the Thunderbirds coaching staff includes a wily, seasoned veteran in 46-year old Jeremy Rebek, who played a major role in a previous successful season when Jordan Smith was the head coach of the Soo’s NOJHL team.

As Jarrett has shown his coaching ability and hockey knowledge from decades in the game, so too has Rebek displayed his sharp mind in that he is also a former Ontario Hockey League and European pro defenseman of many years and considerable success.

As for the players on the Thunderbirds, they range in age from 16 to 20 as part of a tidy, talented all-around troop of goalies, defensemen and forwards.

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