Chasing the Birds

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.

15 thoughts on “Chasing the Birds

  1. Toots Kovacs

    Congrats to both Warren and Denis. I had the pleasure of coaching with Warren at the RBC. He communicates very well with the players and certainly knows the game very well. I have known Denis for years and he will make an excellent addition to the organization. But most important both Warren and Denis are good solid people. Nice move Kevin!

  2. Cue For Treason

    I would be willing to bet on a very close race this coming season with the Thunderbirds and Sudbury loosing so many top players and the Soo Eagles gone to the North American League. North Bay is hosting the Dudley and will load up and do not count out Ryan Leonard and his Elliot Lake Team. KL has a new coach from Quebec Major Junior and Paul will make sure Abitibi is in the thick of things. Blind River has new fresh attitiude with new coaching staff so this could be the closest race in many years. I like One Division, 7 Teams makes sense as RR says.

  3. eaglenews

    Tim Clayden seems to have come full circle, he can be a very shrewd operator and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Should be interesting to see what happens in NB. Dennis Bolton is a prince of a man, the TBirds are very fortunate to have him on board.

  4. Beavers1

    No matter who finishes first I would like to see the Soo Thunderbirds go down a a few pegs – such poor champions of the NOJHL they were with ‘win at all cost’ mentallity.
    Here in Blind River we are waiting for Rusty to announce some players who have been signed – perhaps RR can help us out with some of the players from the Soo!

  5. Trapperfan

    Good turn out at another prospects camp for the Trappers over the week-end. Lots of good talent, the Trappers have done a great job in laying out their expections and it shows by the interest in quality players trying to get invited to main camp. You can’t help but notice 17 year old Tait Seguin out on the ice. If he stays with the Trapers he will definetly be a difference maker.

  6. kenadian

    The Nickel Baron’s have their schedule (and new logo) posted on their website,
    Just wish they’d answer their emails or post season ticket info there too…..

  7. Beavers1

    Kind of quiete but I guess this is to expected for July altho I read about alot of activity in the N.A.H.L. on RR other site altho there are so many more teams there. I do wish our Teams could play in some Tournament with other Leagues involved like have the Soo Eagles from the N.A.H.L. and 2 teams from the S.I.J.H.L. a pre-season tTournament would be a nice way to start. It now is just over 7 weeks til the start of our season and we do have folks talking about the Beavers and Elliot Lake and that is nice to hear. Beavers should put on a pre-season BBQ and Pub for all fans at the Community Centre maybe RR will show up and write up some articles.

  8. Cue For Treason

    I posted here a while back that there is more talk about the Beavers than I have heard for quite some time and I think a lot of it has to do with the new people running the team. Rusty is a Blind River resident and he and Kerry have there roots in our town. Doug Mcewen is from just down the road and he has a feel for a Town such as ours where fans like to be treated with respect by the Beavers Staff. Dave McCaig is a “true” Beaver and the fans just love his respect for the team and his relatienship with the Town of Blind River. I see good days ahead for the Blind River Beavers! Thank You to Randy Russon for always covering the Beavers like the Home Town team!
    GO BEAVERS GO!!!

  9. Mike

    I heard a couple of former Cubs coaches are eyeing the assistant coach position for the Wolves… Burgess is Burgess but still, one hopes he’s not even considering it.

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