A championship was won and a reputation was lost but that was then and this is now.
Soo Thunderbirds, winners of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada championships for the 2011-12 season, are in the process of rebuilding from a campaign of extremes.
From the high of winning two titles was the low of being the subject of an NOJHL investigation that led to lengthy suspensions for two coaches and sanctions on the entire organization.
Out of the rise and fall of the 2011-12 season comes a new beginning as the Thunderbirds aim to move forward and prepare for the 2012-13 term which is a mere two months away.
While general manager Kevin Cain remains at the helm of the hockey department, there’s a new look to the coaching staff.
Longtime assistant Warren Lavoy has been elevated to head coach and Dennis Bolton has joined the Thunderbirds as an assistant after four seasons with the cross-river Soo Eagles, who have left the NOJHL for the North American Hockey League.
Bolton had a standing offer to remain with the Eagles as they make their move from the NOJHL to NAHL but the soon-to-be 62-year old opted to accept Cain’s offer to join the Thunderbirds.
Billy Thompson has also joined the Thunderbirds as goaltending coach and Cain said the coaching staff will likely increase by one more.
Is Lavoy the right man to lead the Thunderbirds as their new bench boss?
There are those that feel Lavoy, who has also been an NOJHL assistant with the Blind River Beavers and erstwhile Soo Indians, is not head-coach material.
But the same was said of Cain when he took over as head coach of the old Soo Indians midway through the 2006-07 season and all he did was lead the Michigan-based team to the NOJHL championship with Lavoy as one of his assistants.
Not that the hockey road ahead will be a smooth one for the Thunderbirds.
They have graduated the cornerstones of the 2011-12 championship team including goalie John Kleinhans and scoring leader Micky Sartoretto, among many others.
But Cain has shown an ability in each of his first two seasons as Thunderbirds GM to be a shrewd trader and master builder.
Besides, there is room for error during the regular-season in the seven-team, one-division NOJHL. That’s because all seven teams make the playoffs with the first-place finisher gaining a first-round bye.
I wouldn’t expect another first-place finish for the Thunderbirds, with the North Bay Trappers and their new hockey boss, Tim Clayden, loading up as they prepare to play host to the 2013 Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament.
But like the Thunderbirds, the Sudbury Nickel Barons are also rebuilding this season.
Abitibi Eskimos are competitive and contend most seasons, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners are just a second-year entry, Blind River Beavers will be trying to make it back to the .500 level after winning just 8 games last season, while the Elliot Lake Bobcats are the NOJHL’s newest team.
Cain, for one, feels the Thunderbirds will do just fine with a first-year headmaster in Lavoy.
“Warren has been a big part of our success over the past couple of seasons,” said Cain. “With his experience behind the bench, along with his leadership skills and solid rapport with players and staff, we look forward to continuing this success.”
The addition of Bolton from the Eagles is also a plus.
“He’s well respected throughout the league and a great addition to our staff,” Cain said of Bolton.