It was a nice sendoff for a junior A hockey team that has represented Sault Ste. Marie well over the years.
In fact, since joining this version of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League in 1999, the Thunderbirds have been exceptional ambassadors for the Soo.
Oh, there has been a hitch and a glitch and a bad boy or two along the way.
But mostly, the Thunderbirds have been good on and off the ice through 17 seasons in the spotlight of the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
An awards night and banquet sendoff was held on Saturday, just prior to the Thunderbirds departing for Fort Frances, where the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada Championships will begin on Tuesday.
The Thunderbirds are representing the NOJHL at the DHC as league champions for the second time in the past four seasons. The other two times, the Thunderbirds made it to the NOJHL finals only to come up just short, first to the erstwhile North Bay Trappers, then to the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
At any rate, the Saturday gathering to recognize the 2014-2015 edition of the Thunderbirds was held at Quattro Comfort Suites in the Soo, where close to a couple hundred people enjoyed good food and the company of most.
General manager Kevin Cain talked about the character of the Thunderbirds and the togetherness of the team.
Coach Jordan Smith talked about goals set, goals attained and goals still in sight.
Assistant general manager Jamie Henderson talked. And talked. And talked some more. And kept on talking.
It is a well-run organization, this Thunderbirds unit.
It is well-sponsored by a number of local businesses.
It is well-managed by Cain, who is the best GM in the NOJHL.
It is well-coached by Smith, the 2014-2015 NOJHL coach-of-the-year.
It is well-taken care of in a secondary role by Henderson, who puts in countless hours as a tireless and passionate volunteer.
The Thunderbirds feature plum junior A hockey talent, much of which is homegrown.
About three-quarters of the roster is local talent, with players ranging in age from 16 to 20.
There are the soldiers of time, veteran skaters who have paid the price and contributed big-time to the victories and championships.
Good players and good guys they are, such as high-scoring, seasoned skaters Nic Tassone, Anthony Miller, Jaren Bellini, Joey Miller, Matt Pinder et al.
Good players and good guys they are, such as dependable forward Matt Mitchell and dependable defenceman Brandon Grandinetti.
Good players and good guys they are, such as 17-year old defenceman Owen Headrick — who already has a committed future with the Lake Superior State University Lakers of the Division 1, Western Collegiate Hockey Association — and the old-young twine tandem of Brian Kment and Mario Culina.
In general, it is a quality operation.
It’s a good group, from management to coaches to players.
It’s a dedicated band of many, many volunteers, men and women, boys and girls who are the strength in numbers of the Jr. A Thunderbirds.
In fact, I would mention the many volunteers by name — there are at least 20 — but I won’t because I am afraid I would leave someone out.
These are not the Greyhounds.
This is not a team that is watched by 4,700 fans on a given night.
But they are a championship team on the ice.
And they are a winning team off the ice.
They are the Thunderbirds of Sault Ste. Marie.