It’s a new ownership group with a new head coach and new logo, but the Soo Thunderbirds will once again be looking for the same old results in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Arguably the most dominant team in the NOJHL the past decade or so, the Thunderbirds, despite the off-season changes, will aim to be among the league’s elite throughout the upcoming campaign.
Boasting four straight division titles and 209 regular season victories the past five seasons alone along with a trio of NOJHL titles and two Dudley-Hewitt Cup championships since 2012, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., side has been one of the top Jr. A clubs within the confines of the NOJHL and the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
A large part of that recent success was due to the efforts of head coach Jordan Smith, who earned himself a position with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves this past July as their new associate head coach.
He led the Thunderbirds to back-to-back NOJHL championships in 2015 & 2016, a Dudley-Hewitt Cup title in 2015 and was a two-time league coach of the year.
As the club’s new team president, Darren Smyl would go on to replace Smith with John Parco as the T-Birds new bench boss.
Parco, a Soo product, boasts a tremendous amount of hockey knowledge and experience while playing and coaching, most recently in Italy with Asiago HC as well as with the Italian National program.
A three-year OHLer with the then Belleville Bulls, Parco amassed 257 points there and another 450 points playing professionally for two decades in the IHL, AHL, ECHL and European pro leagues.
He went to win Italian league titles as head coach with Asiago in 2010 and 2012.
The 12th and final NOJHL team preseason preview features the Soo Thunderbirds.
Head Coach – John Parco
President – Darren Smyl
NOJHL: What are your expectations for the club heading into the 2017-18 season?
Darryl Smyl: To have a great team environment as well as a great entertainment dollar for the fans. We fully expect to develop players both on and off ice. J.P. has been a great addition. The goal is to have several players move on to NCAA hockey every season.
NOJHL: What are your thoughts on what you’ve seen from the team so far and what do you expect to see throughout the season?
DS: This team will be a very determined team. There appears to be a high level of grit and compete.
NOJHL: What will you want to see from your returning players?
DS: The expectation on the returning players is always to lead by example, but also to always learn from the other players and the coaching staff and the management of the team. Always be students!
NOJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that you’ve been impressed with early on?
JOHN PARCO: We have a few newcomers that will fit into the style that we want to play. Braden Robbins comes to us from the Springfield Pics, where he led the team in goals and scoring. He is a player that has speed, good hockey IQ and wants the puck at all times. Ryan Lawrence comes to us from the Meijer AAA hockey program. He is a good skating defender that can transition well and has a quick release. Ryan’s speed, determination and puck handling will help our back-end transition to offence quickly. Brendan Miller was a standout with the Soo Indians AAA midget team last year where he notched 17 goals. His big body and presence around the net will help him transition those goals into junior hockey.
NOJHL: What style of play do you expect to instill into the club?
JP: Playing and coaching in Europe the last 20 years, I want to bring more flow and skill to the game. We want to be a team that plays fast and can make quick decisions. We have acquired some speed and grit, so look for us to play an up-tempo style of hockey.
NOJHL: What are you looking to build upon from the overall success the Thunderbirds have had on the ice in the NOJHL in recent years?
DS: The desire this team has had over the years will only be amplified under the new ownership, management and coaching staff.
NOJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season?
DS: From an owners standpoint I want there to be a high-level of anticipation and enthusiasm from everybody. Not just the players, but even the game night staff. An enthusiastic culture breeds more enthusiasm. With enthusiasm comes high-performing people.
NOJHL: Do you have any final thoughts heading into Friday’s season opener in Hearst?
JP: Being this early in the season, we are looking to work on things that we do in practice. Three games in three days will be a good test for us to start the season. Starting in Hearst and having it be the franchise’s first game, I assume the atmosphere will be intense and they will be ready to play.
September 1st Soo Thunderbirds @ Soo Eagles (4-3 Win)
September 2nd Soo Thunderbirds @ Soo Eagles (5-3 Loss)