It is a team that has a lot going for it.
It has the veteran players who know their way around the junior hockey rinks.
There are forwards Nic Tassone, Anthony Miller, Joey Miller, Matt Pinder, Nathan Hebert, Jaren Bellini et al.
There are defencemen David Radke, Brandon Grandinetti, the injured Owen Headrick, among others.
But the Soo Thunderbirds have been getting major contributions from a number of rookie players as well.
For starters, the first-place Thunderbirds — who took a record of 18-2-2 into Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League play this week — feature 1998 birth-year forward Nic Sicoly, who is third on the team in scoring with 12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points.
Sicoly, who was a fourth-round pick of the Guelph Storm at the 2014 Ontario Hockey League draft, is one of the youngest two players on the Thunderbirds.
“He sure doesn’t play like a 16-year old rookie,” Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain has said of Sicoly, who is ticketed to play in the OHL for Guelph next season.
Then there are two 1997 birth-year players on the Thunderbirds who were bypassed at the OHL draft when first eligible for selection in 2013.
Pint-sized forward Matt Caruso has played in only 16 of the Thunderbirds 22 games heading into play this week. But Caruso has made good use of his ice time with 5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points in the 16 games.
“Love the kid,” Cain said of Caruso. “Don’t let his size fool you. Matty is a tough kid and he plays way bigger than he is.”
Over to an up-and-coming goalie, that would be Mario Culina of the Thunderbirds.
The rookie puckstopper is playing like a true no. 1 goalie for the Thunderbirds with a 10-2 record, 2.01 goals against average and .925 save percentage.
Culina’s 10 wins are tops among OHL goalies.
“He’s going places,” Cain said of the slender 6-foot-2, 170 pound Culina. “There are scouts calling me about Mario every day.”
Indeed, said Cain, he finds it hard to believe how advanced Culina is for a 17-year old goalie just a season out of midget hockey.
“First of all, he has nerves of steel,” praised Cain. “Nothing seems to rattle the kid. He’s a big-game goalie and he’s destined to play the game at a much-higher level, if you ask me.”