Soo Thunderbirds forward Tyson Doucette more than lived up to his off season hype in a Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League 2021-2022 opening weekend match.
Pegged by Hockey News North as a rising NOJHL star in a series of summer stories, Doucette fired three goals and goalie Noah Zeppa pitched a shutout with 17 saves in his Thunderbirds debut as the Soo scored a resounding 7-0 road victory over the Blind River Beavers.
As he has grown several inches in height and become noticeably stronger, so too has Doucette elevated his game.
Still very young, with a 2004 birth date and known for his smarts, skill and work ethic, size became Doucette’s drawback as he moved up through the AAA minor hockey ranks in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie.
As a 15-year old while skating for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, Doucette was a mere 5-foot-4, 115 pounds. And his numbers were rather modest during that 2019-2020 season with two goals, 11 assists, 13 points in 28 games. Thus, he was bypassed at the 2020 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
Still, Doucette impressed the NOJHL Thunderbirds enough last fall to make the team as one of its two 16-year olds. And as Doucette grew to 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, his numbers were more impressive with five goals, six assists, 11 points in 20 games as one of the NOJHL’s youngest players during a 2020-2021 season that was severely shortened by COVID-19.
Now, even bigger at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds — and still growing — Doucette is off to the races with his hat trick performance in the Thunderbirds 2021-2022 regular season opener.
Thunderbirds general manager and assistant coach Jamie Henderson, who coached Doucette with the Jr. Greyhounds two years ago, has taken note of the youngster’s growth.
“Ty has grown physically quite a bit over the last six months or so. ” Henderson told Hockey News North. “His speed is noticeable and he’s a threat every time he’s on the ice.
“Ty has always been a great thinker on the ice,” Henderson added. “Now his body has begun to catch up and he has put in the work to get himself stronger. There is no timetable with development … each player takes a different path to achieve their goals.”
The season opening win by the Soo over Blind River also made a winner of Cole Jarrett in his NOJHL head coaching debut.
“It was a big win for sure,” said Jarrett. “The boys played the right way for 60 minutes and we were rewarded with the win. (Noah) Zeppa was also great in net for us and I think he gave the boys a lot of confidence.
“It feels great to get a win anytime, but with it being my first as a head coach is definitely special,” Jarrett added.
As for Zeppa, it was a splendid debut for him in the Birds net after bouncing around various junior leagues the past two seasons and playing little because of a concussion injury and a serious family member illness.
“Obviously it’s a huge honour looking back at so many talented goalies who have been in the Thunderbirds organization but I have to give credit to the guys in front of me who made my job pretty easy. Still a long season ahead and this game is now behind us, but it’s always great to get the first shutout out of the way,” Zeppa relayed.