NOJHL suspends Thunderbird coaches

Head coach Preston Mizzi and his top assistant Jamie Henderson will not be accompanying the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Dudley Hewitt Cup champion Soo Thunderbirds to the Royal Bank Cup national tournament.

Mizzi and Henderson have both been suspended indefinitely by NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca following a lengthy investigation into alleged reports of off-ice misconduct relating to the Thunderbird organization.

For more, see my latest column at www.juniorhockey.com.

49 thoughts on “NOJHL suspends Thunderbird coaches

  1. barclay donaldson

    …alleged seems an odd choice of wording if they have been suspended already..

  2. Randy Russon Post author

    barclay,

    Alleged is a word that I will continue to use on advice of legal counsel. It is hardly an odd choice of words considering the gravity of this situation.

  3. Trapperfan

    Wow!!! I’m sure, in time, the details of this sorrid situation will come to light for all to see. The team is most affected by this decision and right before the RBC. One can only hope that this won’t immobilize the players to the point of not being competitive. Mr. Cain will have his work cut out for him I’m sure.

  4. Old Goat

    Who is the G.M. of this Soo Thunderbirds team??? Why is all the focus on the coaching staff? Where was the G.M. when all these issues were taking place? Why the statements in the Sault Star about the coaching staff all returning next season which he contradicted himself totally with Randy in the Sault This Week? Being in the general manager’s position puts you responsible for the entire team staff, players etc…this has to be very disappointing to the ownership group and their sponsors.
    Pleading ignorant or innocent to the team’s situations shows lack of responsibility in the position and to throw Randy under the bus with his statements in the papers shows us something else also.

  5. BirdsFan1

    Where does Kevin Cain as General Manager of the Thunderbirds fit into all of this? Are we to assume he did not know what was going on with these Coaches?

  6. Soo Thunderbirds Media Release Post author

    NOTE: This media release has been posted on behalf of President Albert Giommi and the Soo Thunderbirds.

    As most are aware the Soo Thunderbird organization was made aware of some off ice issues that had happened. The first incident occurred on a bus trip home from North Bay after winning the Division championship that was not brought to our attention until sometime on or about April 1st 2012. Apparently, alcohol was allowed on the bus ride home and the coach approved it. The Soo Thunderbirds do not condone this! The Soo Thunderbirds were prepared to act but were advised by the NOJHL to have actual facts. Upon many discussions with the NOJHL Commissioner. an independent third party investigator, was brought in to gather the facts.

    While the facts were being gathered and the organization was out of town playing for the Dudley Hewitt Cup in Thunder Bay, Ontario it had taken the third party a little longer than we had thought.

    After a lengthy meeting prior to heading to the Dudley, the organization had a lengthy and stern discussion with the coaches about what is and what is not condoned.

    Upon the trip home after winning the Dudley Hewitt Cup, the same type of incident happened again, leaving little doubt that we have had a problem.

    We are in trusted with the safety of the players even though some are of the legal age we have put at risk those that are not.

    In light of all of the issues that have been brought forward, the Soo Thunderbirds support the NOJHL Commissioners decision in suspending Preston Mizzi and Jamie Henderson for conduct that is prejudicial to the NOJHL and for conduct detrimental to the interest of the NOJHL and for circumvention of a league investigation.

    We will finish the year with internal coaching and have been under the advice and assistance of Zoltan Kovacs, son of the founder of the Soo Thunderbirds organization and other Soo Thunderbird Alumni’s to help get thru this trying time.

    In the history of the Soo Thunderbirds that goes back to 1978 we have never had issues such as this. I would like to say thank you to the Soo Thunderbird Alumni’s for working with us through this.

    We as an organization do not condone this behavior and the actions that transpired.

    I Remain

    Albert Giommi
    President

  7. Randy Russon Post author

    FYI,

    I have just learned that Zoltan “Toots” Kovacs will join the Soo Thunderbirds coaching staff for the Royal Bank Cup Tournament.

    Not only is Toots a former Thunderbird player but he later coached the team for two seasons before helping out as an assistant with the OHL Soo Greyhounds for two more years.

    The 52-year old Kovacs has a reputation as a “player’s coach” who players listen to, respect and look up to.

    RR

  8. Sigs_2012

    Grace under pressure is a virtue .
    Mr Giommi’s post exhibits virtue, AND class.
    I salute you, sir.

    Is this a major distraction for the Birds? I’m sure it is.
    But it could be a lot, lot worst. Had arrests, injury to or even
    the death of a player or staff, especially had it been directly attributable
    to the reasons for the suspensions, could have been disastrous.

    The Birds will be just fine under Mr Kovacs, an excellent step-in, with plenty of experience and a lot of well-earned respect.

    Move on, Birds.
    Although it may not seem like it right now, sometimes getting kicked in the teeth can be the best thing that happens to you. ( Walt Disney)

  9. American Eagle

    these coaches were warned and continued to act up. The NOJHL and Thunderbirds had no choice to suspend them.
    Great reporting Randy! You oviously had a handle on this right from the start and followed it thru. No one can call you a “homer” – another example of why you are so respected.
    When the Eagles move to the NAHL I trust you will write them up in ‘Sault This Week’ and Juniorhockey.com. I hope the NAHL knows what a great writer they are getting in you. I salute you Sir.

    P.S. Difference between Bruno and Kevin Cain: Bruno enforces disipline and Mr. Cain does not.

  10. Cue For Treason

    I have no sympethy for the Soo Coach’s. They made their beds and are lying in them. Obviously this shows these guys that it is NOT ALL ABOUT WINNING!

    Where is the big mouth “upfront” now???

    To Mr. Mazzuca: Well done. You have balls.
    To Mr. Giomi: Honesty is always thye best policy.
    To RR: I knew we could count on you to print the truth and the whole story.
    To Toots: Dont put up with any bullshit.

  11. BirdsFan1

    As Randy said:
    “Win a Championship…Lose a Reputation”

    Truer words have not ben spoke!

  12. Trapperfan

    Well there you have it. Letting that happen once and getting grilled over it and then go right back out and do it again… I’m thinking Mizzi and Henderson really didn’t care much for their reputation. Going against the fundemental rules of the club a 2nd time probably means that a coaching career anywhere close is out the window.

    Ok boys step ‘er up, try to put this behind you and show the grit and the hard work it took to get you to the RBC and all will be just fine.

  13. Bartolucci

    I think the way to say it is the NOJHL divested itself of the coaches.

    To Mr. Giommi: a well written comment in the face of an extremely difficult situation.

    Good luck to Mr. Cain and Mr. Kovacs at the RBC.

  14. osbie

    It’s great that the league and the team are taking responsibility, but while the coaches allowed this to happen, I’m guessing that the players were not sitting with guns to their heads to get involved. To me the right thing to do is to suspend the entire team, and give the RBC spot to the Dudley Runner-up. These players were just as involved as the coaches yet they aren’t getting so much as a slap on the wrist. Not a great lesson being taught here.

  15. Guest

    I would have to agree with “Osbie”. It is definitely sad that this team was even permitted to represent the NOJHL at the Dudley. These kids I am sure are and were aware of the team and league rules as well as the legal drinking age in this province. Sad…..really sad! No lesson taught IMO.

  16. billy syms

    I have personally travelled the NOJHL for 10+ years. I have seen alot of coaches past through that door at the Rhodes and can tell with 100% certainty, Zoltan Kovacs is well respected by the NOJHL, by the ownership groups he has volunteered for, by his staff and most importantly by the 20 guys the suit up in that Tbirds jersey each and every game! Great choice!! Good luck to the players at the RBC!

  17. upfront

    osbie

    So suspend the whole team for the actions of a few ??? Why punish the ones who were not drinking ?
    I’m sure other teams in this league have drank on the bus on more than one occasion I’m not saying it’s right they were warned
    Now it’s all in the open Suspensions are handed down etc
    So lets focus on the team representing our fine city and the NOJHL in the Nation Championship
    GO BIRDS GO !!!!!!!!

  18. eaglenews

    Having known Toots for over 40 years both as a player, a coach, and a mentor to countless young people. The TBirds are under the solid leadership of a respected man both on the ice – and in the community. Give it your best TBirds and make the organization, the community and the NOJHL proud of your efforts. Clean the slate and play the game you love.

  19. BirdsFan1

    IMO, the Thunderbirds GM should be fired for allowing all of this to happen under his watch.

  20. TBird Sponsor

    Randy Russon is right on!-
    WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP LOSE A REPUTATION
    Mr. Cain needs to be held accountable!

  21. osbie

    To upfront:

    Yes, the actions of the few penalize the many everyday in the real world. If you are that worried about penalizing the non-offenders then let’s identify the number of guilty players and see if there are even enough left to field a team. Maybe every team has done this, but the Thunderbirds are the one that got caught. Unfortunately they are are the team that is being made the example.

  22. Hawks_96

    Has any one heard anything on the Cubs and their situation?

    I also agree that Mr. Cain should be held accountable as well or any other Thunderbird team official who allowed those events to occur.

  23. North Bay Hockey

    Lol well I honestly I feel bad for the coach, ya he let them drink again after the dudley, but you know what, it happens in all areas of team sport in Junior C, B, and A. Let’s hope the Thunderbirds represent at the RBC.

    Best of luck Tbirds!

  24. eaglenews

    set that connolly loose, add sum amadio, add heck what’s his name michelcavage, and the MJHL, Sjhl BChl and sum pea souups… bien well. who knows… TBIRDS!!!

  25. Beavers1

    In the end the “Iron Hand” of the Commissioner will make the NOJHL safer for the players and more credable for all who are involved. If you dont want to get suspended dont break the rules.

  26. Cassio

    I agree that Mazucca is good for the League. Better to have a prick than a pansey leading the way!

  27. hockeyguy01

    i dont know the details but this is my opinion. my question is,why was this matter not handled internally instead of waiting for the commisioner to make the call. did something happen that this got out of hand? when you win a cup in any sport there is usually a celebration of some kind. was tyler seguin not celebrating last year when boston won the cup? not sure but i think he was underage and this was televised. good luck at the rbc tbirds.

  28. Cue For Treason

    “Don’t mess with Mazzuca” is what all Owners, Managers, Coaches and Players should remember.

  29. ex-nojhler

    Doesn’t anyone remember Feb 2010? Canada’s Women Hockey team won Gold at the Olympics and held a celebration at center ice where Beer, Champagne and Cigars were being consumed.

    Article taken from news clipping at the time……..
    “Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored both goals in the final, was pictured swigging beer, despite being under the legal drinking age in British Columbia.

    IOC executive director Gilbert Felli was particularly annoyed the players were pictured on the ice with champagne, beer and cigars, claiming team celebrations should be private and held away from Olympic venues.

    However, during today’s daily press briefing, IOC director of communications Mark Adams said the Hockey Canada apology would suffice and no further action would be taken. ”
    ..Just saying………….

  30. Scott Kell

    i bet every other junior team that won a championship was drinking after to celebrate and im sure there was underagers involved..im sure the kids on the birds who were drinking underage go out on weekends and do the samething with their friends..i know its not the best example to set by the team but i think its getting made into a bigger deal than it is..they won a league title and then went on to win the dudley, come on they deserve to have a celebration

  31. Trapperfan

    Celebrations happen and maybe they should, it is kind of a right of passage so to speak when a team wins big. I agree that the Thunderbirds club could have suspended, fired, or did whatever with the coaches for not towing the line. I’m wondering if there was an incident that happened as a result the celebration causing enough concern for the league to have to investigate. Maybe it was safer to go this route then to have the execs take heat for firing a “winning coaching staff”.

  32. guest

    @Trapperfan….I’m wondering if there were other events besides the drinking on the bus and this is the only thing that has reached the media.
    I agree that there is a need to celebrate for sure, but the coaches shouldn’t have condoned this behaviour especially since they were warned before going to the DHC and did the same thing anyway. I think there is way more to this story that the media hasn’t been told. Other wrong doings are being hidden I am sure.

  33. Anonymous

    if everyone was so worried about what was going on on the bus, why didnt cain go on the bus with them?? and maybe the problem isnt the coaches and people should be penalizing the players. The coaches aren’t giving them the alcohol or marijuana, maybe they need some rules instilled in them by someone other than the coaches

  34. Old Goat

    Another wonderful article in the Sault Star concerning the T-Birds and their recent history. I certainly enjoyed that the owner absolved the G.M. of any wrongdoing as he wasn’t on the bus??? Someone set the alarm clock for Albert will you. The G.M. is responsible for the staff & the players and since this wasn’t the 1st incident why the pass here on responsibility?
    There should be some type of answer forthcoming but I forgot, this is a goodtime to vacation in Soo, Michigan. All aboard the soon to be arriving “Pity Bus” which I assume the G.M. already has a reservation.

  35. eaglefan

    Old Goat…Elliot Lake Bobcat fan:
    If the owner of the team gives Kevin a pass on responsibility, then how/why would you question the decision. The owner is a no-nonsense, hands on guy. I’m quite sure Kevin doesn’t make too many decisions without the owners input.

    I question your integrity. You appear to have an axe to grind with Kevin. He is caught between an irresponsible coaching staff and a successful coaching staff; tough spot to manage from. Especially when the job(s) is/are mostly a volunteer position.

    Most, if not all, teams throw a box of beer on the bus for the long road trips facing the northern teams. Not enough to do serious damage. The major error, IMO, was not getting their collective ‘butts’ home after beating the Eagles out.
    They had no business sticking around Soo Michigan (Eagle territory), hanging on the ‘hot corner’ (Ashmun and Portage) at 2:30 AM, after a night of drinking in Eagle territory. Most adults know the Soo Mich. police are trolling that corner looking for Canucks to bust for no good reason. The adults know this…the kids wouldn’t. The adults should have made damn sure those guys got their arses back home.

    You wouldn’t be related to Biff or Macbeth or Commander Wilson or one of twenty other handles, would you???

  36. Brother99

    I for one am hoping for a good showing at the RBC by the T-Birds. Just like I was glad the Eagles had a good showing last year at the Dudley. The main point is to get pass this ASAP. As for all of us on here we need to remember the NO sent the OJ and SI home early this year and they are still smarting I bet. The NOJHL as a whole needs to gloat a bit more about the bigger picture here. This tells the scouts they need to look at the talent in Northern Ontario and also tells players that they do not need to travel elsewhere to find a competive Junior experience. I would have been happy for the Eagles also if they had made it but with them going to the NAHL it would have just taken away from the NOJHL. Something like “you see the best team left the league this year”. Also we do not want to talk about how many hockey players and what teams have been seen on the corners after closing time. I am also glad the commissioner is getting tough on the discipline but again he needs to roll it out across the league or as I said before it looks or is percieved as selective enforcement. Again it should be uniform in reality and perception. Also RR great job and look forward to all the facts. As for the T-Birds I am sure the owner will do the right thing. Also where is that peachy. I need a good tongue lashing LOL.

  37. Hawks_96

    @Brother 99 I was thing the same thing about Peachy. I shocked he hasn’t had a say on this matter (T-birds coaches or something on Humboldt, Sask)

  38. eaglenews

    brother 99, your comments echo, if all the players from Northern Ontario stayed home our teams would give anyone a run – just look at the bantam and midget performances every year (not to mention pee wee and atom) KUDOS to Albert, Kevin, and the entire TBird organization, and do us proud. and kudos to RR

  39. Mike

    So the Cubs have been sold? To whom? Stressed out Rod is telling everyone that he quit and was not fired. Will stressed out Rod be back behind the bench? Will he be by himself?

  40. Peachy

    PEACHY BLOG
    Birds are suppose to fly not smoke dope & get drunk ahahahahahahahaha
    Elliott Lake is good Town for NOJHL . Peachy get lucky there in 1975 with bar made who screw like mink & drink like fish ahahahahahahahahahahahaha

  41. hockeyguy01

    thanks to RR for all your dedication and hard work in keeping everyone up to date with the nojhl. now, my take on this soo t birds situation. if it is true that these boys drank on several road trips with the approval from the coach, to me this is not a players coach,this is a players friend. that being said, if he allowed them to have a beer after winning the dudley hewitt cup,now thats a players coach. to me, that would be a reward for there accomplsihments. also if you read the headlines at the top of this page, it says the” nojhl suspends coaches”. unless it was an on ice incident, should it not read, “soo tbirds organization suspends coaches”. the fact that it was the league that apparantly suspended them, to me,that looks bad on the soo organization. lets hope the boys can put this behind them and kick some butt at the rbc, thanks

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