It’s Bird season.
Soo Thunderbirds hit the ice of John Rhodes Community Centre in full force over the weekend preparatory to the 2014-2015 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular season that begins during the second week of September.
Regular-season NOJHL champions in 2013-2014, the Thunderbirds then won two rounds of the playoffs before losing in the finals.
Now, with a pair of a exhibition games with the Soo Eagles of the North American Hockey League (Friday, September 5 and Saturday, September 6 at Pullar Stadium) serving as a prelude to the 2014-2015 regular season, the Thunderbirds are finalizing their roster under the command of general manager Kevin Cain, head coach Jordan Smith and assistants Ryan Maunu, Jeremy Rebek and Kyle Brick.
Among the seasoned, local products expected to line up for the Thunderbirds again in 2014-2015 are goalie Brian Kment, defencemen Brandon Grandinetti and Owen Headrick, forwards Anthony Miller, Jaren Bellini, Nathan Hebert, Matthew Mitchell and Nic Tassone.
Six new local players who have commitments to play for the Thunderbirds this season are goalie Mario Culina, defencemen Caleb Boman, Alex Morin and Matt Murray and forwards Matt Caruso and Matt Pinder.
Also new to the Thunderbirds for 2014-2015 is rookie forward Travis Campbell from the Windsor Jr. Spitfires major midgets. Campbell was a 10th-round pick of the Soo Greyhounds at the 2013 Ontario Hockey League draft.
As for Cain, the grizzled GM of several NOJHL seasons who celebrated his 47th birthday on Friday, the 2014-2015 campaign continues an association with the NOJHL that has included championships won with both the Thunderbirds and the erstwhile Soo Indians.
Meanwhile, among the changes that are in store for the Thunderbirds this coming season is a return to the cozy confines of the Rhodes Centre for home games.
While the Rhodes Centre has continued to serve as the Thunderbirds practice facility and base of their operations, the team has played its home games the past few seasons at the cavernous Essar Centre.
But playing in front of crowds of about 350 at the 4,500-seat Essar Centre has done little to provide a close-up atmosphere, thus the plan of Cain and the Thunderbirds to return to the Rhodes Centre for the base of its home games in 2014-2015.
PHOTO: Forward Matthew Mitchell (left) and goalie Mario Culina (right) during a training camp session of the Soo Thunderbirds that was held this weekend at John Rhodes Community Centre. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)