FORT FRANCES – SPORTS – The second of four Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Jr. A Championship team previews is on the winners of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Soo Thunderbirds.
Sault Ste. Marie’s initial contest at the Dudley-Hewitt will be at 2 p.m. CT/3 p.m. ET Tuesday vs. the Dryden GM Ice Dogs of the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
The Soo and Dryden will joined by the host and two-time SIJHL Bill Salonen Cup title-winning Fort Frances Lakers along with the defending Dudley-Hewitt Cup and back-to-back Ontario Junior Hockey League champion Toronto Patriots.
Here is a look at the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy champion T-Birds.
TEAM: SOO THUNDERBIRDS
GENERAL MANAGER: Kevin Cain
HEAD COACH: Jordan Smith
THE THUNDERBIRDS: Representing the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League at this year’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup in Fort Frances are the Soo Thunderbirds.
It is nothing new for Sault Ste. Marie to be competing in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup having been a NOJHL representative at five of the past seven Central Canada Jr. A Championships.
Ironically this also marks the third straight occasion that the Thunderbirds will play in the DHC when the Superior International Junior Hockey League has served as host of the four-team tourney.
They finished fourth in 2009 in Schreiber, Ont., before rebounding to win it all in 2012 as they captured their first Dudley-Hewitt Cup crown in Thunder Bay.
Guided by two-time NOJHL coach of the year Jordan Smith, Sault Ste. Marie secured their second consecutive NOJHL regular season title and from there were all but dominant in the 2015 NOJHL playoffs rolling through three postseason series winning 12 times while only losing twice.
In quarter-final play they blasted the Blind River Beavers in four straight outscoring them 41-1 in the process.
Moving on the NOJHL West Division final they met an impressive Elliot Lake Wildcats and proceeded to tame them in five games.
Advancing to their fourth straight league Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy final, Sault Ste. Marie took on an upstart first-year Cochrane Crunch.
After the high-scoring Crunch took the series opener, the Thunderbirds reeled off four consecutive victories to win the best-of-seven final 4-1.
THE PLAYERS: Leading the Thunderbirds in the postseason were forward Matt Caruso and defencemen Owen Headrick as they shared the team point lead with 20 each.
Caruso had a league-best 14 goals along with six assists while Headrick topped all NOJHL defencemen with 12 tallies and eight helpers.
Picking up at least one point in his last 10 outings, Headrick also went on to be named the league’s most valuable player in the playoffs.
Thunderbirds captain Anthony Miller and Jaren Bellini were next on the squad in offensive production with 17 points apiece. Matt Pinder picked up 16 points followed by rookies Nicolas Sicoly and Boris Katchouk, who were both 15-point men.
Caleb Bowman led all T-Birds defencemen in scoring during the course of the regular season with 32 points in 49 outings scoring nine times and setting up 23 others.
David Radke was next with 27 points, including a pair of goals, which were both game-winners.
Despite missing most of the first four-plus months due to an upper-body injury, Headrick still averaged a point-per-game for his club with 13 in as many outings and followed that up with his impressive MVP run in the playoffs.
Headrick (Lake Superior State, WCHA) and Radke (Colorado College, NCHC) have both committed to NCAA D-I programs.
Goaltending was also a key to the Soo’s success as netminders Mario Culina and Brian Kment combined to register a NOJHL-leading seven shutouts along the playoff trail.
Culina topped all league netminders in both average and save percentage at 1.23 and .945
Kment finished second with a goals-against average of 1.73 along with a .925 save mark.
During the course of the regular season, the Thunderbirds connected at a 20.7% clip on the power play while going 81.7% while on the penalty kill.
In the playoffs they upped both percentages firing at a 26.8% success rate while on a man advantage and had an 84.4% rate while shorthanded.
FASTHOCKEY: Each Dudley-Hewitt Cup contest will be available online via pay-per-view at fasthockey.com.
DUDLEY-HEWITT CUP WEBSITE: More information on the 2015 Dudley-Hewitt Cup, including ticket packages, can be found on the official event website at www.centralcanadianchampionship.com.
Additional news, statistics, schedules and other relevant material is also posted on the website with other relevant information being added leading up to the event.
RBC CUP: The Dudley-Hewitt Cup winner will advance to represent the central region at the 2015 RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A Championship, May 9-17, in Portage la Prairie, Man.
Serving as host will be the Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Joining the Terriers and Dudley-Hewitt title holders will be the champion and finalist of Crescent Energy Western Canadian Championship as well as the winner of the Fred Page Cup Eastern Canadian Championship.
More information on the RBC Cup can be found at www.hockeycanada.ca/rbccup.
April 28 – May 2
Ice for Kids Arena
Fort Frances, Ont.
HOST: Fort Frances Lakers (Bill Salonen Cup champion)
SIJHL: Dryden GM Ice Dogs (Bill Salonen Cup finalist)
NOJHL: Soo Thunderbirds (Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy champion)
OJHL: Toronto Patriots (Buckland Cup champion)
Schedule (All start times Central Standard Time)
Tuesday, April 28
Soo vs. Dryden 2 p.m.
Toronto vs. Fort Frances 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 29
Toronto vs. Dryden 2 p.m.
Fort Frances vs. Soo 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 30
Soo vs. Toronto 2 p.m.
Dryden vs. Fort Frances 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 1
Semifinal: 2nd Round Robin vs. 3rd Round Robin 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 2
Final: 1st Round Robin vs. Semifinal Winner 7:30 p.m.
DHC champion advances to RBC Cup May 9-17 in Portage la Prairie, Man.