Cole Jarrett could not have envisioned what would transpire in his debut season as part owner and head coach of the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. Not only did the Thunderbirds finish atop the standings of the 12-team NOJHL with a regular season record of 38-5-5 but they pulled off an epic comeback to win the league playoff championship.
“It was a great season for sure and to have it be our first made it extra special,” Jarrett told Hockey News North. “My first year of coaching had many challenges but the group was such a pleasure to be around that we were able to face them head on. Looking back on the year I have a better idea of how I grow and continue to get better as a coach.”
Jarrett gave an abundance of credit to the Thunderbirds staff for the championship season.
“For sure, my first year was made a lot easier with the staff we had. (General manager and assistant coach) Jamie Henderson brought a ton of experience and knowledge at this level and made it a seamless transition once we took over,” Jarrett began. “It was great to coach with (former Ontario Hockey League and long-time European standout defenseman) Jeremy Rebek. We had talked about it for a long time, how nice it would be to coach together, and to have the success we had together made more special. And our other two assistants, Anthony Miller and Joey Miller, were instrumental all season long. Their upbeat and positive attitudes were great for the group and our staff.”
The 2021-2022 season was also one of introduction to the NOJHL for Jarrett.
“We have a very competitive league with a lot of great centres throughout the North. Like all junior A leagues these players are hungry to get to the next level and pour everything they have into it. In my opinion the NOJHL is a fast and physical brand of hockey,” Jarrett noted.
Winning the NOJHL championship meant the Thunderbirds got to represent the NOJHL at last month’s 10-team, Centennial Cup, national junior A tournament that was held in Estevan, Saskatchewan.
“The Centennial Cup was a great experience for everyone involved. For the players they got a glimpse of what it takes to compete for spots at the next level. And, for us as an organization, we have a better understanding of what we need to improve to get to where want to be,” relayed Jarrett.
The Thunderbirds were top heavy with local talent in 2021-2022 with two thirds of the roster comprised of homegrown talent. It’s a commitment that Jarrett would like to maintain.
“That’s our hope,” he said. “Each year will be different, for different reasons, but we will remain committed to developing and showcasing local and northern Ontario talent.”
The championship season that the Thunderbirds enjoyed surprised Jarrett.
“I would be be lying if I said we were going to win a championship from day one but as the season went on and as we got through the schedule once and had a chance to see all the teams, we began to think that we could do it,” Jarrett said of the Thunderbirds, who concluded the regular season with 18 straight wins and then won eight more games in a row to begin the playoffs.
After sweeping both the Blind River Beavers and Soo Eagles in the West Division playoffs, the Thunderbirds fell behind the East Division champion Hearst Lumberjacks three games to none before rallying to win the next four to take the league title in stunning fashion.
“The Hearst series and the way it went, the type of roller-coaster we were on was really wild and it made for a great story. It is something we will all remember for a long time and part of it was being down 3-0 and having the resolve to come back and win it all, that was really something,” Jarrett noted.
PARTNERS: Jarrett and and his good friend Trevor Daley obtained operational control of the Thunderbirds a year ago from local businessman Darren Smyl, who had presided over the Thunderbirds since 2017.
Jarrett and Daley were both drafted into the Ontario Hockey League in 1999 as players born in 1983.
A Sault Ste. Marie product, Jarrett was a third round pick (44th overall) of the Plymouth Whalers (now Flint Firebirds) while Daley was a first round selection (10th overall) by the Soo Greyhounds. Both players would play four seasons in the OHL and develop as standout defensemen who captained their respective teams.
A natural leader, Jarrett was a captain on just about every team he ever played on, including in the OHL with Plymouth. Jarrett’s pro career took him to the American Hockey League, the National Hockey League and overseas to Finland, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Japan and England.
He has since been involved in minor hockey in the Sault as a director and a coach after returning home with his wife and their two kids following his retirement as a player in 2018. Besides coaching the Thunderbirds, Jarrett also coached within the Sault Major Hockey Association in 2021-2022 as part of the under 11 program.
As for Daley, the Toronto product has an association to Sault Ste. Marie besides having played for the Greyhounds, given that his wife is from the Soo and they maintain a residence in the area.
Daley, to be sure, had an outstanding pro career after graduating from the OHL and the Greyhounds.
A second round pick by the Dallas Stars at the 2002 NHL draft, Daley would go on to play 16 seasons at the game’s highest level, skating in more than 1,100 games, playoffs included.
Besides Dallas, Daley also suited up for the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. He retired as an NHL player in 2020 and took a job as a hockey operations advisor with the NHL Penguins.
Jarrett and Daley become the sixth owners of the Thunderbirds since their 1999 NOJHL inception.
From founder Sam Biascucci, the Thunderbirds then went on to a succession of fellow local operators that included Pat Egan/Al Jones to JoAnne Brooks/Albert Giommi to the aforementioned Darren Smyl, who rescued the franchise in 2017 from a company known as the The Tech 1921 Ltd.