SUDBURY, Ont. – Over the past two decades, no Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League organization has achieved more success on the ice than the Soo Thunderbirds.
In the past 20 years, the Thunderbirds have racked up an impressive 700 victories in total, which included a one-year stint as the Sault Jr. Greyhounds back in 2002-03.
During that span, the club posted a winning record on 19 occasions and played .500-hockey the other year while averaging 35 triumphs per campaign overall.
They also won four NOJHL championships, captured a pair of Dudley-Hewitt Cup titles, claimed a multitude of divisional and overall regular season crowns as well as many finals appearances, during this era of excellence.
Now the perennial league power Thunderbirds are gearing up for another run of NOJHL success this season under general manager Trevor Zachary and head coach John Parco.
Offering some insight on what he has seen from his club so far in training camp and what he expects to witness from his squad in 2019-20, GM Zachary gives us his thoughts on the Soo Thunderbirds in this NOJHL team season preview.
NOJHL: What are your expectations for the club heading into the 2019-20 season?
TREVOR ZACHARY: We always expect our club compete at a high level and contend for a division title.
NOJHL: Give us your thoughts on the squad as you near the start of another season.
TZ: Although a little younger than the last couple of years, we’re excited about getting going. We’re looking forward to another competitive season.
NOJHL: Who are a couple of returning players you look to be play a pivotal role on the club in 2019-20?
TZ: Nolan Ford and Nick Smith will both bring leadership to the group on and off the ice. Smith averaged over a point-per-game last season, including supplying 27 goals. Ford has over 100 games of Jr. A experience and has been a solid contributor.
NOJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that you expect to perform well in the league?
TZ: Kevin Parra-Vaughan, who played in Dryden (SIJHL) last season will help us out quite a bit defensively while Daniel Bazarin, who played last year in the NA3HL, should give our offense a boost.
NOJHL: For the first time in recent memory, nine teams in the league had 25 or more wins last season. How do you feel that parity has helped your organization challenging in such a competitive league?
TZ: It’s great for the league, as well as the competition level for our club. With such parity you can’t take a night off. Every point is important from the first game of the year to the last. Our guys know that they must be prepared every night. A regular routine and good habits on and off the ice will keep us very competitive.
NOJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season?
TZ: It’s important for us to have a good start to the season to give us a chance to compete for a championship. The mindset of the hockey club is to be playing for the Dudley-Hewitt Cup at the end of every season.
NOJHL: What are one or two highlights so far in your time with the team?
TZ: Going to Game 7 last year vs. Hearst in the final was a great experience for our players and our coaching staff. That and being able to develop players who are now playing in the OHL, college, or at the university level is always rewarding.
NOJHL: Do you have any closing comments other thoughts to wrap things up?
TZ: We’re excited to get things going. We’re looking forward to the rivalries and the competition among the teams in the league.