By Randy Russon – Hockey News North
Soo Thunderbirds, Elliot Lake Wildcats and Soo Eagles played off in a three-team, round-robin, Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, Labour Day weekend exhibition series at John Rhodes Community Centre.
The host Thunderbirds posted a 2-0 record, the Wildcats were 1-1 and the Eagles went 0-2 but there was very little to choose from among the three West Division teams.
All three games were low-scoring and decided by one goal.
The Thunderbirds scored 2-1 wins over both the Wildcats and Eagles. The Wildcats edged the Eagles 3-2.
Goaltending was not an issue with either of the three teams.
And while play was sloppy at times — no surprise given the time of year and the humid outdoor conditions that affected the ice indoors — there was no lack of intensity as all three teams played hard and with an edge.
The reigning champion Thunderbirds may be deep in veteran talent but they showed off several rookie skaters.
Despite being very young, 1998 birth-year defenceman Carmen Scarfone and 1999 birth-year forward Mark Tassone did not look out of place playing against good competition. And while ice time may be hard to come by for both players once the regular season begins this weekend — the Thunderbirds have depth on the back end and up front — Scarfone and Tassone gave favourable impressions as up-and-comers.
And Brad Thrower, a 1997 birth-year rookie, really stood out on the Thunderbird forward lines.
Elliot Lake finished second in the West Division as a first-year entry in 2014-2015 and general manager Todd Stencill and coach Nathan Hewitt have put together another contender for 2015-2016.
The Wildcats are seasoned and have skill and size, not to mention a play-making, crowd-pleasing speedster in defenceman Nathan Campbell.
Speaking of crowd, a number of Wildcats fans made the jaunt from Elliot Lake to the Soo for the games and were a lively, colourful presence, armed with cow bells and dressed in team jerseys.
The Eagles may have lost both their games on the weekend but for a new team that has just been assembled over the summer months, showed that with a tweak or two and some power-play work, will be a force to be reckoned with.
Rookie defenceman Levi Rowan looks like the real deal and fearless forward Jake Hernandez, while still troubled by a foot injury sustained during an early-summer workout, has taken on a vocal and physical leadership role for the Michigan-based Eagles.
The Eagles could get an offensive boost, coupled with experience, should 20-year old forward Leo Lumm join the team after leaving the New Jersey Titans of the North American Hockey League.
Lumm is a proven, three-year NAHL veteran who hustles and has a decent scoring touch. He was in the Soo for the Sunday night game between the Eagles and Thunderbirds and talked with coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo afterwards.