Dudley-Hewitt Cup team preview: Soo Thunderbirds, NOJHL



Release Date: Monday, April 29, 2013

Dudley-Hewitt Cup team preview: Soo Thunderbirds, NOJHL

NORTH BAY – The 2013 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Junior A championship, hosted by the North Bay Trappers of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League April 30-May 4 at Memorial Gardens, gets underway Tuesday.

Joining the NOJHL champion Trappers at the four-team event will be the NOJHL finalist and defending Dudley-Hewitt title holding Soo Thunderbirds, along with the winners of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Superior International Junior Hockey League, the St. Michael’s Buzzers and Minnesota Wilderness respectively.

The following is a Dudley-Hewitt Cup competing team preview of the Soo Thunderbirds, NOJHL finalists:

THE THUNDERBIRDS: As the NOJHL is serving as the host league for this year’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup it meant they would have two representatives at the event.

With North Bay having one spot locked up as the host team, the Thunderbirds automatically earned the second bid by advancing to the NOJHL final against the Trappers.

This marks the second straight year Sault Ste. Marie is playing in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup and they return as defending champions after winning the title last year in Thunder Bay when they defeated the Stouffville Spirit of the OJHL in the title game.

There’s a half dozen players from last season’s squad that won both the NOJHL regular season and playoffs crowns along with the Dudley-Hewitt championship on this year’s squad.

The T-Birds finished the regular season in second spot, three points behind North Bay, with a 33-9-3-3 mark.

In their past two campaigns (98 games) Sault Ste. Marie has 70 wins against only 20 defeats and eight extra time decisions.

HOW THEY ARRIVED: Entering the 2013 postseason, the Thunderbirds had won their previous two playoff outings as part of their 2012 championship run and promptly ran their winning streak to six games as they swept the Abitibi Eskimos in NOJHL quarter-final play.

Moving on they extended their consecutive game win run to double digits after finishing off the Sudbury Nickel Barons in the minimum four outings in semifinal action.

That combined with North Bay knocking off Kirkland Lake in the other league semifinal meant the Sault was in the Dudley-Hewitt regardless of the outcome in the NOJHL championship.

After taking the opener to extend their playoff win streak to 11 games, the final turned out to be a battle right down to the end as the Thunderbirds rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to force a seventh and deciding game, which they would eventually lose in North Bay in what was a highly competitive affair.

STATISTICS: In the league playoffs the Thunderbirds saw three skaters finish among the top five in offensive production.

Brandon Warmington and Derek Battagin led the way with 16 points apiece, which was good enough to tie for the second highest total in the league. Warmington also topped all NOJHL shooters in postseason tallies with 10, of which three were game winners.

Captain Darcy Casola was next on the squad and fifth overall with 14 points on three goals and 11 assists.

Casola, who was earlier named the recipient of the NOJHL’s best overall team player award, paced the T-Birds in regular season scoring picking up 66 points in 48 games while Adam Ritchie was next with 61 in just 38 outings.

Sault Ste. Marie had nine skaters on their roster that notched 10 or markers during the course of the 2012-13 regular season.

Defenceman Tyler Jones led all blueliners offensively on the club with 23 points.

In net the Thunderbirds have a pair of solid goalkeepers in Joel Horodziejczyk and Steven Dombrosky.

Horodziejczyk’s stellar play in his first year in the league earned him NOJHL rookie of the year honours and he is also a finalist for the Canadian Junior Hockey League top rookie accolades.

He also garnered second team all-star laurels joining teammates Michael Caruso on defence along with forwards Warmington and Casola who also earned second team selections for their on-ice efforts.

Horodziejczyk led all goaltenders in save percentage in the playoffs at .942 and was second in goals-against average at 1.83 to go along with one shutout.

In regular season action the 18-year-old netminder was second in both average and save percentage at 2.38 and .918 respectively while picking up 19 wins, which were the third most of any goalie in the league.

As for Dombrosky, he was 5-2 in the playoffs with a 2.21 GAA and .934 save mark added to the 13 victories, against just two defeats, in regular season action.

BEHIND THE BENCH: After building the club that won last year’s Dudley-Hewitt crown, Thunderbirds’ general manager Kevin Cain moved behind the bench midway through this season taking over as head coach as well, now serving in both capacities for Sault Ste. Marie.