Trending younger: Thunderbirds sign seven Soo U-18 players during a busy off season

Former Soo Thunderbirds forward Dharan Cap in action against the Sudbury Cubs last season. Cap is one of several players who left the team at the conclusion of the season last April. The Thunderbirds signed seven U18 Jr. Greyhounds players for the upcoming season. GM Jamie Henderson says each player will get a chance to prove they can be in the lineup come opening night on Sept. 8 against the Soo Eagles. In total, the locals have five returning players committed to training camp in two weeks time. PHOTO BY BOB DAVIES

At the beginning of June the club signed Callum McAuley, Jacob Smith, Harley Wardell, Candon O’Neill, Declan Gallivan, Evan Roach and Maverick Fletcher from the Great North U18 team.

Gordon AndersonThe Sault Star

There can be little doubt the Thunderbirds are trending younger for the upcoming season.

The Soo Thunderbirds commence Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League training camp later this month at the John Rhodes Community Arena.

“We want to be (known as a team) where young players can come and develop,” Thunderbirds GM Jamie Henderson told the Sault Star. “We want to give these guys an opportunity to use our program and to use this league as a great stepping stone to other places. Ultimately, when you have a team full of 19 or 20-year olds you don’t give the opportunity for younger players to play. It’s going to be an open book come training camp.”

The first day of training camp in set for Aug. 29.

“We are happy with our recruiting and the commitment we have from the players,” Henderson said. “We picked up seven players who played on the local (U18 Greyhounds team) and then we added some guys, we think, who are going to fit in really well from other U18 programs across the country.”

At the beginning of June the club signed Callum McAuley, Jacob Smith, Harley Wardell, Candon O’Neill, Declan Gallivan, Evan Roach and Maverick Fletcher from the Great North U18 team.

“For me, (getting younger) was something we wanted to do,” Henderson said. “We really want to be a young group, but most importantly, we wanted to find hockey players, wanted to find guys who are 17 and 18-year-old players who want to be college hockey players. We wanted guys who would eat, sleep and breathe hockey.”

With so many league rookies and imports from other provinces expected to be rolling into town over the next week to 10 days, Henderson acknowledged there are a number of jobs up for grabs.

“There are going to be no assumptions about who is on the first line, the third line, the powerplay, there are going to be a lot of decisions to make,” Henderson said. “Most importantly, they are going to have an opportunity to show who is deserving of those important roles.”

The club could sign a couple of free agents prior to the start of camp but Henderson doesn’t expect many additions, unless an impact player becomes available. Henderson may also stall further additions until players get released after junior training camps disperse later in the fall.

“I am happy with where we are right now,” Henderson said. “We will see once things get going here, but so far so good.”

Five alive and the others

In addition to the seven signees from last season’s Jr. Hounds squad, the club has Daniel Beaupre, Samuel Lake, Alex Remenda, Kolby Fellinger and goaltender Kolton Bourret returning for a run at a third consecutive league championship appearance.

Kelsey Ouellet, who played for the Thunderbirds during the 2021-22 season, was picked up by the club earlier this month from the Truro Bearcats of the Maritime Hockey League in exchange for the Canadian Junior Hockey League rights to d-man Mason Chitaroni.

The orange and blue also inked forward Thomas Degagne, Andrew Thompson, Tyler Enwistle, James Legler and Adam Kukko, among other signees by the general manager.

“We picked up a few free agents that we are happy with, with a little junior experience,” Henderson said. “Ouellet should be a big edition, one of the better power forwards in the league.”

Twenty two players are signed and ready to go for the training camp.

“I don’t get into the prediction business, especially at this time of year, but we are going to be a hard-working team that is really hard to play against,” Henderson said. “We have a lot of guys who are really driven to be hockey players.”