More T-Birds off to high-level junior ranks
By Matt Mackinder
All high-level AAA hockey programs have the same goals in mind: win games – championships if possible – and advance players to junior hockey and beyond.
For the Colorado Thunderbirds, handling both of those tasks on a yearly basis has become par for the course.
Thunderbirds director of hockey operations and 16U AAA head coach Angelo Ricci is awestruck at the number of players who skated with the program’s 18U and 16U teams during the 2013-14 season and have since moved on to the junior ranks.
“It’s really incredible,” said Ricci. “I give a lot of credit to our coaching staff for instilling in these kids the fire to want to go out and improve and get better with each practice, with each workout and with each game.
“The kids go out and put in the long hours and show the effort, and realize that the hard work does pay off in the long run.”
From the last year’s Thunderbirds 18U team, seven players have moved on to teams in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), North American Hockey League (NAHL) and Minnesota Junior Hockey League (MnJHL).
Among them are forwards Rider Stoglin (Prince George Spruce Kings/BCHL), Anthony Song (Bismarck Bobcats/NAHL), Beau Dommer (Topeka RoadRunners/NAHL) and Caleb Pola (drafted by NAHL’s Brookings Blizzard, then traded to the Amarillo Bulls); defenseman Logan Fauber (Wenatchee Wild/NAHL); and goaltenders Nick Kossoff (Keystone Ice Miners/NAHL) and Jared Young (Dells Ducks/MnJHL).
“We continue to grow each and every season and, every year, it seems like my phone rings more and more and my e-mail fills up faster. Scouts want to know about our players and, when we travel to tournaments, they’re always asking about our kids.
“That’s a testament to the players and the coaches and makes us – as an organization – realize that we’re doing things the right way, and we’ll continue to do that to benefit these kids.”
In addition to the seven 18U players who moved on from the 2013-14 squad, six more from the T-Birds’ national runner-up 16U AAA team – all eligible to play with the Thunderbirds’ 18U team this season – advanced to Major Junior teams in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and Quebec Major Junior League (QMJHL), as well as the United States Hockey League (USHL) and prestigious U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP).
Forwards Zach Goberis (Lethbridge Hurricanes/WHL), Alex Overhardt (Portland Winterhawks/WHL), Chris Sarault (Saint John Sea Dogs/QMJHL), Troy Terry (NTDP Under-18 Team) and Zach Walker (NTDP Under-17 Team), along with goaltender Kris Carlson (Waterloo Black Hawks/USHL), are representing the Thunderbirds at the highest levels of junior hockey.
“I’m proud of all of the players who advanced from our program last season, and am truly excited to track their progress and watch them blossom,” said Ricci. “It’s very rewarding.”
The Thunderbirds have also witnessed 16 players from last season’s 16U team drafted by USHL clubs in 2013 and 2014.
“We don’t get involved in this for the glitz and glamour; we do it for the kids,” Ricci added. “That might be a cliché, but it’s true.
“Our coaching staff and training staff knows what it takes to get these kids where they need to be – with the right junior programs that can pick up where we left off and continue their development and forward progress.
“Seeing these kids advance and keep in touch with us means we’ve done our jobs, and we as coaches are just one small step in the process.”