SUDBURY, Ont. – As a perennial power in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League over the years, the Soo Thunderbirds look to ice yet another extremely competitive club this season.
Over the past decade alone the organization has registered a league-best 388 victories, including never having wrapped up a campaign with fewer than 33 wins.
In that span their teams also captured four NOJHL championships as well as a pair of Dudley-Hewitt Cup crowns along with two berths to the Canadian Jr. A national events.
Under the tutelage of head coach John Parco, the club looks to maintain that level of excellence in 2018-19.
Back for a second campaign behind the bench for his hometown Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., side, he led his club to a 36-16-3-1 record and a berth in the West Division Final in his initial campaign as coach last season.
In this continuing compilation of team previews put together in conjunction with the NOJHL and its member clubs, this latest feature highlights the Soo Thunderbirds.
NOJHL: What are your expectations for your team heading into the 2018-19 season?
JOHN PARCO: Our expectations are to build off of what we did last year. We had a young group last year and with nine returnees, we look forward to seeing what this group can accomplish. We have added some nice players to the group and are looking forward to get the season started.
NOJHL: What have you seen from your club in preseason play and practices?
J.P.: We have seen a lot of good things from different players on the ice. Our speed and skill will be our biggest asset, which we want to transition into how we play.
NOJHL: Who are some of your returning players you expect to have impressive years?
J.P.: On the back-end we are looking forward to seeing Steve Bellini take even a bigger step forward than he did last season. He has worked hard over the summer and you are able to see the results so far on the ice. Tristan Cicchello will be back and we are also looking forward to see what he can do after a real good rookie year. He is coming off a real good main camp with the Sudbury Wolves. Up front we get our leading scorer back in Nick Smith, who had a breakout campaign last year where he tied for sixth in league scoring and was in the Top 5 in goals and power play goals. We are looking for him to lead the way offensively with some others such as Kaidan MacDonald, Lucas Theriault, Brendan Miller and Noah Boman.
NOJHL: Who are some of the newcomers you’ve signed that have impressed with their skill set?
J.P.: Defenceman Nate Medaglia came to spring camp and impressed us from the start. He is very mobile for his size and can really shoot the puck. Once he gets accustomed to the speed and our style, he will have success. Two players that got into some games for us last year, Cam Findlay and Avery Rebek, will add to our skill and depth up front. Both played games in our league in 2017-18 and fit in quite nicely. We look forward to seeing them progress. Rebek led the Great North Midget League’s Soo Greyhounds in scoring last season with 19 goals and 33 points in 36 regular season games. During the 2017-18 regular season, the 18-year-old also suited up for 10 games up here with the Thunderbirds. Findlay was also with the Greyhounds in the GNML where he scored seven times and set-up 11 others in 36 games. He also dressed for us in three games in the regular season. As for Medaglia, he played defence last year with the OFSAA Finalist and City & NOSSA champion St. Mary’s Knights hockey team. He played in 42 games with the Knights last season and scored five times and assisted on 30 others.
NOJHL: What are you looking to build upon from last season?
J.P.: We just want to continue to build of some of the successes we had last year. We are a team that wants to be responsible in all three areas of the ice.
NOJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season and beyond?
J.P.: We just want to get off to a good start. We have a bit of a light schedule in September, so it will allow us to practice a lot and get focused on what we need to do as a team.
NOJHL: Any closing comments to wrap things up?
J.P.: We look forward to another good competitive year of hockey.