Thunderbirds generate additional NCAA exposure after weekend stint in Wisconsin

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – A road trip to Wisconsin this past weekend was a positive NCAA recruiting experience for the Soo Thunderbirds and the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

In the U.S. state, the Thunderbirds played a pair of exhibition contests against NCAA Division III – Northern Collegiate Hockey Association schools Lawrence and Concordia-Wisconsin as well as toured the campus and facilities at another NCHA side, Marian University, in Fond du Lac, Wis., the hometown of Colin Ahern, one of Sault Ste. Marie’s goaltenders.

Talks of the opportunity came about last March after discussions with recruiters from both Lawrence and Concordia when they were in the Soo on scouting trips.

“Our current coaching staff led by our associate coach “Toots” Kovacs spoke to the guys from Lawrence and Concordia about this when they were in Sault Ste. Marie last season,” stated Thunderbirds general manager Trevor Zachary.

“All of them believed that a trip to Wisconsin would benefit us as well as serve as good preseason exhibition games for them,” added Zachary.

“We also toured the facilities at Marian after I began planning things with the NOJHL and all three schools in Wisconsin.”

After receiving permission from the NOJHL to make the in-season trip it was made ultimately possible after receiving the full support of team president Darren Smyl, who footed the bill to make this a reality.

With league approval and team organizational backing the Thunderbirds traveled to Mequon, Wis., where they took to Concordia and dropped a 6-3 decision Friday to the Falcons.

From there they headed to Appleton, Wis., to meet the Falcons where they were edged 2-1 in overtime in a tightly contested match-up.

When discussing the NCAA exposure the two games generated, Zachary felt the trip was extremely worthwhile.

“There’s no question that the players got to display their skills in front of coaches from the teams that we played against as well as others who knew that we were going to be in town,” offered Zachary.

“We have already received calls on a couple graduating players from our club who may potentially attend these schools next season.”

Already boasting a multitude of Canadian Junior Hockey League alumni on their rosters, including six former NOJHLers, on the two NCAA team rosters, Zachary noted the competition provided was of high quality.

“Needless to say, the level of competition was very high,” said the Soo GM. “It was good to see us compete well with both clubs.”

With his club boasting a 10-3 record as they return to NOJHL action Thursday at Rayside-Balfour, Thunderbirds head coach John Parco was pleased about the in-season experience.

“It was a very good weekend for our team to not only play against these programs, but for their coaches to take the time to tour their campuses and facilities of all three schools with us,” surmised Parco. “It says a lot about the programs at Lawrence, Concordia, and Marian.”

Buoyed by the experience, Zachary felts the opportunity was a worthwhile endeavour and was a win-win situation for all parties.

“The Soo Thunderbirds would like to thank the teams in the NOJHL, league commissioner Robert Mazzuca and our team president Darren Smyl for working with us and understanding the importance of this trip, for not only our club, but for all the teams in our league,” reflected Zachary.

“These types of exhibitions will lead to additional player exposure on all teams in our league.”

NOJHL alumni on the two NCHA schools

Lawrence Vikings
Appleton, Wis.

Matt Meininger, (D) Sophomore (Soo Eagles)
Evan Ketner, (F) Junior (Soo Eagles)
Jacob Elrod, (D) Sophomore (Blind River Beavers)

Concordia Falcons
Mequon, Wis.

Thomas Dyball, (D) Freshman (Soo Eagles)
Jacob Palmerio, (F) Freshman (Soo Eagles)
Brandon MacKinnon, (F) Freshman (Powassan Voodoos)