Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Feb. 14, 2013) — Thirty-five years later, Dave Antonello still smiles when thinking back to his time playing for the Soo Thunderbirds.
The forward spent two-and-a-half seasons with the club between 1977 and 1979. During that period, he developed some longstanding friendships – still going strong today – and learned valuable lessons that have allowed him to excel off the ice, all while having a blast.
“Those were some of the best years of my life and certainly my best years of hockey,” said Antonello. “I look back on that time with nothing but fondness.”
Back then, coached by the venerable Abbie Carricato, the Thunderbirds roster featured names like Darren Zack, Toots Kovacs, Chris Braido, Ben Greco, Ron Zuke, Carlo DiCandia and Norm Schmidt. The later ended up being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins and eventually played 125 games for the National Hockey League team during the 1980s.
Also during that time, the Thunderbirds competed in the Northern Ontario Hockey Association’s International Jr. B League, with teams scattered throughout the Algoma District and northern Michigan in places like Thessalon, Blind River, Marquette and the Twin Saults. The hockey was hard-hitting, and the rinks were almost always jam packed.
“It was a great time,” said Antonello, who’s now a supervisor at Essar Steel Algoma. “It was tough hockey, but you knew everybody. After the games, you’d gather with the other team and have fun. We had a blast.”
Today, the Thunderbirds compete in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. With its on-ice rich history, the team took home the league, playoff and provincial Dudley-Hewitt Cup championships last season and is now defending those crowns.
As a former player, Antonello, who still laces up and takes to the ice to this day, sees the club as an important part of the Sault’s hockey fabric and city in general. “The Thunderbirds are a big part of Sault Ste. Marie,” he said. “It provides a place to play for a lot of local youths. The team means a lot for our community.”
Antonello, along with other Thunderbird alumni, will be honoured during the team’s March 9 home game against the Abitibi Eskimos. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m. at the Essar Centre. The corner suite has been reserved for former players, who are invited to attend this special event.
More information on the club, including schedules, player biographies and alumni, is available online at www.tbirdhockey.ca.