The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season is just over a month away and for the Soo Thunderbirds will have some roster additions to come over the next few weeks.
With 17 players signed, the organization has a handful of open roster spots open with its regular season opener set for Sept. 17.
With COVID-19 forcing a number of changes last season to league play, the club is coming off a weekend development camp, held at the John Rhodes Community Centre and the three-day camp was a positive.
Thunderbirds general manager Jamie Henderson said the pace was exactly what was expected as players returned to the ice, some for the first time in an extended period due to COVID-19 restrictions in some areas.
“It got better as the weekend went on and that’s what you expect at this time of year,” Henderson said.
The forward situation for the club sees six players returning from the 2020-21 roster and nine players signed for the upcoming season.
Tyson Doucette, who is coming off his first NOJHL season, stood out for Henderson during the weekend camp.
“He’s grown physically quite a bit in the last six months and really led the way this weekend,” Henderson said. “His speed is noticeable and he’s a threat every time he’s on the ice. We’ll need him to be our best player night in and night out.”
The veteran group includes Michael Chaffay and Brock Santa Maria, among others.
“Chaffay and Santa Maria and the veteran guys that have been around, it’s up to them to bring it every day and set the example for everyone,” Henderson said. “We asked them this weekend to compete and lead the way and for the most part they did. There’s another level that those guys need to get to. They know that and we talked about that. We’re excited where they can go individually and how that will affect the team.”
The summer saw the Thunderbirds add Sault native Cole Delarosbil in a trade with the NOJHL’s Espanola Express.
“We saw a real energetic player (in the camp),” Henderson said. “He brings it every shift. He’s a vocal guy. He’s going to work hard every shift. Guys like him and Ethan Novello, Ty Zachary, we need those guys to really solidify our bottom six and push the guys for more roles and more responsibility. They showed pretty well.”
Russell Oldham, who got into 20 games last season with the Thunderbirds, is also signed for next season.
Henderson spoke highly of forward Kelsey Ouellett and defenceman Kyle Trottier who were both signed out of the Kapuskasing U18 program this summer.
“Both players were simply outstanding this weekend,” Henderson said. “They hadn’t been on the ice since at least February.”
Henderson called Ouellet “a prototypical power forward.”
“He was a threat every shift,” Henderson added. “He was hungry on pucks. He’s going to be a really good player in this league.”
In speaking about the other rookie forward signed by the club this summer, Henderson had a lot of good things to say about Sault product Samuel Lake.
“Samuel is just a hard guy to play against, even against his own teammates, he sometimes likes to get under their skin,” Henderson said. “He’s going to be a player who is probably marked by a few teams after we play them a few times. He definitely likes to get under the skin of opponents. It’s great to have guys like that on your side.
“They had a great weekend,” Henderson said of the group. “They were really solid.”
The Thunderbirds general manager spoke of a paring of Trottier and Andrew Gibson
“They were absolutely fantastic all weekend,” Henderson said.
The group of signed defenceman include returnee Kaden Dundas as well as rookies Creo Solomon, Kolby Fellinger, and Michael Beltrano.
“Solomon is going to be a really physical player and Dundas is really poised with the puck and you can tell his confidence has grown from last year,” Henderson said. “Fellinger and Beltrano looked really good this weekend too.”
Henderson said the team will consider looking for another player to add to the group as well ahead of the season.
“Ultimately, it’s not about necessarily a veteran, but someone that can come in and play the way we want to play,” Henderson said. “Right now, the six that we have, we’re really happy with.”
In goal, the Thunderbirds approach the new season with Sault natives Noah Zeppa and Noah Metivier between the pipes.
“They’re both in a situation where they’re going to push each other to get better,” Henderson said. “They’re both still pretty young in Metivier without any junior experience and Zeppa hasn’t played a whole lot at this level. They’re motivated. They both had a good summer from what I’ve seen of them on the ice.”
With the regular season opener just over five weeks away, Henderson expects to fill some roster sports before the end of the month, with some potential additions coming as junior camps take place in early-September.
“We’ll be looking to fill one or two more spots in the next couple of weeks and then we’ll see what happens at all the various camps,” Henderson said. “We’ll see what’s going to happen at OHL camps and see what might happen after that. We don’t have any Americans right now, so we might be able to get a player who doesn’t quite crack a North American League team. We’re just going to be patient. We’re happy with where we’re at right now.”