Dudley-Hewitt Cup team preview: Soo Thunderbirds



Release Date: Monday, May 2, 2016

Thunderbirds team photo credit: Jean-Rene Daoust, capturingthemoment.ca

Dudley-Hewitt Cup team preview: Soo Thunderbirds

KIRKLAND LAKE, Ont. – The 2016 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Jr. A Championship in Kirkland Lake, Ont., begins Tuesday in Kirkland Lake, Ont. at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex and features the defending champion Soo Thunderbirds (NOJHL), the Trenton Golden Hawks (OJHL), the Fort Frances Lakers (SIJHL) and the host Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (NOJHL) as the four competing teams.

The following is a DHC preview of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy champion Soo Thunderbirds.

THE NOJHL: The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League will be represented by two teams at this year’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup in Kirkland Lake with the host Gold Miners joining the NOJHL champion Soo Thunderbirds at the four-team event.

The Thunderbirds are no stranger to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup as they are competing for the title for the sixth time in the past seven years.

Sault Ste. Marie is the defending DHC champion having captured the title last season in Fort Frances, Ont., where they defeated the hometown Lakers 3-2 in the final.

The T-Birds also won the 2012 Dudley-Hewitt Cup when it was held in Thunder Bay.

NOJHL Commissioner: Robert Mazzuca


Head Coach: Jordan Smith
General Manager: Jamie Henderson

HOW THEY ADVANCED: Sault Ste. Marie went an impressive 12-1 in the NOJHL playoffs to claim their second straight league crown sweeping the Gold Miners in four straight in Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy final.

The Thunderbirds began the postseason by dispatching the rival Soo Eagles in the minimum time in quarter-final action before dropping the Elliot Lake Wildcats in five outings with their only setback coming in overtime of Game 4.

They then went on to sweep Kirkland Lake in the final to win their second consecutive league crown.

Included in their playoff efforts was the club going 7-0 on home ice and 6-1 on the road.

REGULAR SEASON: Along with their postseason success, the Thunderbirds were equally as dominant during the course of the regular season.

The Soo rolled to their third consecutive regular season crown finishing with an impressive 47-6-1-0 record.

As was the case in the playoffs, the T-Birds were unstoppable at home on Essar Centre ice.

They were a perfect 27-0 as the home team in 2015-16 and boasted a solid 20-6-1 road record.

GOALTENDERS: Much of the Soo’s success can be based on their stellar defensive play led by goaltenders Connor Ryckman and Brendon Gordon.

Ryckman was all but unbeatable in the postseason going 11-1 in the playoffs posting an impressive 1.06 goals-against average along with a stellar .952 save percentage.

Of his 12 starts he registered an amazing six shutouts, which led the entire 131-team Canadian Junior Hockey League.

Gordon’s lone playoff start was also a shutout for the T-Birds.

DEFENCEMEN: Not only was the Thunderbirds defensive corps fantastic in keeping opposing shooters at bay during the postseason, they were also dominant offensively.

The Soo blueliners amassed 51 points between them, including a dozen goals.

Niagara University NCAA D-I recruit Caleb Boman led all D-men in the league in playoff scoring with 14 points in 13 outings on four tallies and 10 assists.

NOJHL playoff MVP Michael Caruso and teammate Matthew Busby were next with 11 points apiece.

Caruso notched a league-high five markers while Busby tied with Boman for a NOJHL-best 10 assists among defencemen.

The Soo also only allowed 13 goals against in as many postseason contests.

FORWARDS: As part of a well-balanced attack that saw 16 different players register five or more playoff points, 11 were forwards.

Like he did in the regular season, Matthew Caruso topped the T-Birds in offensive numbers with 15 points on eight goals and seven assists. Caruso had 68 points in the regular season, which included a team-high 30 goals.

Rookie Drake Pilon was next among forwards and third overall on the squad in postseason production with 13 points, including a pair of markers.

Jaren Bellini picked up 10 points while the veteran trio of Matt Pinder, Joey Miller and team captain Brett Jeffries all had nine points in the playoffs.

NO STRANGER: The Dudley-Hewitt Cup is all too familiar for the Soo Thunderbirds as they are making their sixth DHC appearance in the past seven years, including winning it all in both 2012 and 2015.

Sault Ste. Marie also has 14 skaters in their line-up that saw action with the squad in 2014-15.

They also boast the same staff, which includes head coach Jordan Smith, general manager Jamie Henderson and president Kevin Cain.

T-BIRDS TIDBITS: The Thunderbirds finished the regular season rated No. 3 in the final Canadian Junior Hockey League Top 20 rankings. … The club boasts 14 returnees from last year’s squad that won both the NOJHL and Dudley-Hewitt Cup. … There are 16 players on this season’s roster that are from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., as well as one from across the bridge in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. … They led the entire CJHL in playoff shutouts with seven. Six of them were posted by Connor Ryckman, who paced all CJHL netminders in that category. …The Soo have yet to lose all season when they’ve been the home team. … D-man Caleb Boman was a CCM Hockey NOJHL first team all-star on defence this season. He also represented the NOJHL in the CJHL Prospects game and has committed to attend Niagara University of the NCAA on scholarship. … Fellow D-man Matthew Busby was a CCM second team selection. … Captain Brett Jeffries was named the NOJHL’s top defensive forward for a second straight year. Jeffries was also the league’s nominee for RBC CJHL player of the year. … T-Birds forward Nathan Hebert was named the league’s most improved player after doubling his point totals from a year ago while Brandon Grandinetti was the NOJHL’s top scholastic player. … Matthew Caruso and Jaren Bellini shared the league-lead in game-winning goals with eight. … The club won NOJHL honours for allowing the fewest goals-against in the regular season at just 93, which was 42 fewer than their closest competitor. … The T-Birds were second in the league in the playoffs in power play success at 26.2%. … They were tops in penalty kill proficiency at an impressive 96.9%. …  In regular season play they led the league in both the P.P. and the P.K. at 28.8% and 88.9% respectively. … Under the guidance of then general manager and now team president Kevin Cain, Sault Ste. Marie has won an amazing 209 games in the past five seasons. They’ve also won 56 times in the playoffs in the past half-decade. … The success the past three years under head coach Jordan Smith has been equally impressive. Since taking over behind the bench to guide his hometown team, Smith has produced 123 victories, two straight league championships, a Dudley-Hewitt Cup crown, and three consecutive appearances in the NOJHL finals as well as a trio of league regular season titles.

For more information on the Dudley-Hewitt Cup visit the official CJHL – DHC website at centralcanadianchampionship.com.

All Dudley-Hewitt Cup games are available online at FASTHockey.com.