Italian trio gets revenge on hometown Thunderbirds
At one time or another over the past few years, Nick Trecroce, Jake Palmerio and Carmen Scarfone all had aspirations of playing for their hometown Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League team.
But, despite attending various tryout camps for the Soo Thunderbirds, none of the three was ever signed by the local NOJHL team – passed over for others, including out-of-towners. Those were decisions made by the Thunderbirds’ brain trust, which over the past few years has included since-departed general managers Kevin Cain and Jamie Henderson and current coach-GM Jordan Smith.
I am not here to dispute the decisions that were made that resulted in Trecroce, Palmerio and Scarfone going unsigned by the Thunderbirds, whatever the reason.
But in a sweet taste of hockey irony, the trio of Italian boys from the Canadian Soo – Trecroce, Palmerio and Scarfone – played above-average roles as the Michigan-based Soo Eagles stunningly swept the two-time defending champion Thunderbirds from this year’s NOJHL playoffs.
Trecroce, a 1996 birth-year defenseman, and Palmerio, a 1997 birth-year forward, both had a hand in clutch goals as the Eagles completed the improbable sweep of the Thunderbirds with 3-2 and 4-2 home-ice decisions.
In Game 3, Palmerio and Trecroce both assisted on the winning goal.
In Game 4, Palmerio scored the winning goal and Trecroce set up the insurance marker to send the Thunderbirds packing without so much as a single playoff victory – the first time that has happened in the history of a franchise that made its NOJHL debut way back in 1999.
And while he didn’t pick a point, Scarfone, an NOJHL rookie with a 1998 birth date, stood tall on the Eagles’ blueline and, like Palmerio and Trecroce, played his heart out.
It was, to be sure, a big-time upset that the Eagles fashioned in sweeping the Thunderbirds in quick albeit close manner, winning by 4-3 (double overtime), 4-3, 3-2 and 4-2 scores.
Not only did the Thunderbirds win the regular-season series against the Eagles, but they also finished a whopping 31 points ahead of their cross-border rivals. That’s correct: The Thunderbirds finished atop the West Division with a 43-11-2 record, 31 points up on the fourth-place Eagles and their 27-26-3 record.
Actually, the Eagles had another Canadian Soo product with them for the first part of the season, 1999 birth-year defenseman Nolan Makkonen. But after a fast-track development with the Eagles, Makkonen signed with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League in January of this year.
At any rate, Trecroce, Palmerio and Scarfone are not the only residents from the Canadian side of the St. Mary’s River who are playing major roles with the Michigan-based Eagles. Veteran bench boss Jim Capy and longtime goalie instructor Bill Vanderleest are both members of the Eagles’ coaching staff.
Capy, who has a lengthy association as an NOJHL head coach, was with the Thunderbirds for several years in the early days of the franchise before moving on to perform bench duties for Blind River Beavers (on two separate occasions) and the erstwhile Soo Indians. A retired Canada Post worker, the relentless, passionate Capy has revived his coaching career with the Eagles alongside associate coach and general manager Bruno Bragagnolo, who is also a part owner of the team.
As for the affable Vanderleest, he is a tireless volunteer who has been with the Eagles for a number of years, including their time in the North American Hockey League.
Back to Trecroce, Palmerio and Scarfone. It’s the Thunderbirds’ business why they did not sign the three from right in their own backyard when they had the opportunity. And really, it does not matter now. What is done is done.
What matters at the moment is that all three, as members of the Eagles, were a part of one of the biggest playoff upsets in recent NOJHL times when the Michigan-based crew upended the mighty Thunderbirds in four straight games. The three also had strong regular seasons for the Eagles. Palmerio had 21 goals, 25 assists, 46 points in 49 games, while Trecroce was 0-26-26 in 49 outings and Scarfone was 0-11-11 in 55 games while minding the store in his own end.
If there is a criticism for one to have in the way the Thunderbirds have operated the team over the past several years, it’s that local players have often been bypassed for out-of-town talent. And I get it that the out of-town talent has helped the Thunderbirds win multiple NOJHL and Dudley-Hewitt Cup championships over the past few years. But the championships certainly have not increased the fan base or the following for the local NOJHL team.
In fact, when Pat Egan and Al Jones were operating the Thunderbirds, the teams over the years were almost 100 percent made up of local players – and they were annual contenders. And while the Thunderbirds never won an NOJHL title under the operation of Egan and Jones, they were first and foremost about giving local players a place to play.
Not only that, dare I say that there were more Thunderbird fans then than there are now.
Led by Northern Ontario Hockey Association player-of-the-year Camaryn Baber, about a dozen 2001 birth-year players from the Great North Midget League could be selected at this month’s Ontario Hockey League draft.
A Hockey Weekly cross-section of OHL scouts and general managers places Baber, a hard-nosed, high-scoring right winger with the Soo Greyhounds, as a second-or-third-round pick at the April 8 under-16 draft.
Baber placed third on the Greyhound midgets in scoring during the 2016-2017 regular season with 32 goals, 30 assists, 62 points in 32 games – while racking up 99 minutes in penalties. Young Baber then added 5 goals, 2 assists, 7 points in 6 playoff contests.
A likeable kid who is known for his strong work ethic and great attitude in addition to his hockey skills, Baber’s gritty style only adds to his all-around game and makes him the consensus first pick from the Great North loop for the upcoming OHL draft.
Payton Vescio, a slick, smart, cool-under-pressure defenseman with the North Bay Trappers, is projected to be the second player from the Great North to be chosen at the April 8 OHL lottery. A quiet leader and character kid, Vescio is viewed as a third-to-fifth round pick.
Three more players from North Bay and one from the Sudbury Wolves are seen as fifth-to-eighth-round picks. They are Trappers forwards Matt Hardwick and Ryan Mills and goalie Joel Rainville and Wolves forward Joe Mazur.
Others from the Great North loop who are being mentioned as possible late picks in the 15-round draft are Trappers forward Cole Craft and defensemen Jake Peterson-Galema and Kobe Seguin, Greyhounds defenseman Tristan Cicchello and Wolves defenseman Alex Fowke.
NOJHL tryout camp
Attention, Canadian- and American-born players.
Espanola Express of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League has confirmed that its spring tryout camp will be held on Saturday April 22 at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Arena in Sudbury.
Players born in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 will have the opportunity to play in front of Express management and coaches in hopes of making the 2017-2018 roster.
Espanola general manager Chad Clarke has confirmed that there are several roster spots available for all positions.
The camp will consist of on-ice practices, off-ice testing, goalie sessions and two in-squad games. Cost of camp is $100, taxes included.
The camp will be the only open tryout camp this off season for the Express, which does plan on holding another tryout camp until main camp in August – which will be by invite only.