Carolina Thunderbirds
Carolina Thunderbirds.PNG
CityWinston-Salem, North Carolina
LeagueFederal Prospects Hockey League
Home arenaWinston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex
Owner(s)Barry Soskin (majority)
Cary Ross, Rick Chaikin (minority)[1]
Head coachGarrett Rutledge
Franchise history
2017–presentCarolina Thunderbirds
Regular season titles1 (2018–19)
Playoff championships1 (2019)

The Carolina Thunderbirds are a minor league professional hockey team located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and play in the Federal Prospects Hockey League. Their home games are played at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex.[2]


In August 2016,[3] the Federal Hockey League (FHL) announced that multiple FHL franchise owner Barry Soskin would place an expansion team in Winston-Salem for the 2017–18 FHL season.[1] The team name was announced in September as the Carolina Thunderbirds after the former professional team that had last played in Winston-Salem in 1992. In June 2017, Berlin River Drivers head coach Andre Niec was hired as the Thunderbirds' inaugural head coach.[4]

The team played their first game on October 27, 2017, against the Danville Dashers. The home opener was held on November 3 against the North Shore Knights, a 3–2 victory for the Thunderbirds in front of a sold-out crowd.[5] On January 27, 2018, head coach Niec swung a hockey stick at an official after disagreeing with a call towards the end of a game with the league leading Port Huron Prowlers.[6][7] The FHL then suspended Niec for 20 games and would be replaced by general manager Scott Brand on an interim basis.[8] Brand would also be suspended for one game after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on February 16. Niec returned on March 3

On March 2, 2018, the Thunderbirds broke the single-season Federal Hockey League season attendance record and finished their inaugural season with a total attendance of 66,204 fans, 14,720 higher than the previous record. The third seed Thunderbirds hosted the second-seeded Watertown Wolves on April 13, 2018, in the playoff semifinals, the first playoff game played in the Triad in 10 years, but lost a close game in overtime. The Thunderbirds also lost the following night and were eliminated from the playoffs, although the 3–2 loss to the Wolves in double overtime became the longest game in league history.[9]

The Thunderbirds opened the 2018–19 season on October 26, 2018, at home against the Port Huron Prowlers with 4–3 win. The next night in another game against the Prowlers, head coach Niec was ejected again for arguing with the officials. He was subsequently suspended by the league again for six games (reduced to four), with personal trainer Karolina Huvarova taking over in the interim. Huvarova was reportedly the first European woman to coach a men's professional team.[10] On November 28, 2018, the Thunderbirds' management received league approval to implement an experimental rule change to hold a five-man shootout prior to the each game instead of only holding a shootout after a game was still tied following overtime.[11][12] The pre-game shootout rule was left up to a fan vote and was discontinued after only two games.[13] On February 1, 2019, with a 6–3 win over the Danville Dashers, the Thunderbirds tied the 2017–18 Port Huron Prowlers and the 2010–11 New York Aviators FHL record for longest winning streak at 21 games. Josh Pietrantonio became the first player in team history to earned 100 points as a Thunderbird in the game.[14] They broke the winning streak record the following night by defeating the Danville Dashers 4–3,[15] and the streak ended at 24 following a 4–2 loss to the Watertown Wolves on February 9.[16] On March 8, the Thunderbirds won their first regular season championship and secured the FHL's top seed for the 2019 playoffs. Head coach Andre Niec signed a contract for the final game and scored a hat trick in a 7–1 win over the Dashers.

The team won eight league awards for the season. Team captain, Josh Pietrantonio, was named the FHL MVP and for the second consecutive season was one of the players named as Forwards of the Year. He scored 27 goals along with 56 assists for a total of 83 points. Andre Niec was named Coach of the Year after leading the Thunderbirds to a record breaking season with the most wins (49), most points (149), and the best point percentage (.856) in league history. Christian Pavlas was named Goaltender of the Year after leading the FHL in all four major goaltending categories: wins (30), GAA (1.77), save percentage (.932), and shutouts (5). His 30 wins and five shutouts are the most by a goaltender in a single season in league history. Mike Baker was a Defenseman of the Year after joining the team via a trade with Port Huron in December. Karel Drahorad also lead the FHL in goals among defensemen during the season. Forward Jan Salak led the league in plus/minus at +77 for the season. Michael Bunn also lead the league in game winning goals with eight.

On May 15, 2019, inaugural general manager Scott Brand left the Thunderbirds to take on the same role with the FHL expansion team Columbus River Dragons[17] and was replaced by Jimmy Milliken, who had been serving on the league's expansion committee.[18]

In 2018, the FHL began calling itself the Federal Prospects Hockey League (FPHL) and fully rebranded before the 2019–20 season. Part way into the 2019–20 season, general manager Milliken resigned to spend more time with family.[19] The 2019–20 season was curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic with the Thunderbirds holding the top seed in the standings. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the start of the 2020–21 season was delayed to February 2021. The Thunderbirds were one of four teams to take part in the shortened season, but had to play all games on the road due to their home arena being unavailable.[20] Following the 2020–21 season, head coach Niec left the team to become a European scout for the NHL's Florida Panthers[21] and was replaced by Garrett Rutledge.[22]

Season-by-season results

Regular season Playoffs
Season GP W L OTW OTL Pts[a] Pct GF GA PIM Finish Semifinals Finals
2017–18 56 25 24 5 2 87 .518 197 192 946 3rd L, 0–2, Watertown Wolves
2018–19 58 48 6 1 3 149 .856 266 116 1375 1st W, 2–0, Port Huron Prowlers W, 3–1, Elmira Enforcers
2019–20 46 33 6 2 5 108 .783 219 106 978 1st Season cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic
2020–21 20 8 9 2 1 29 .483 75 61 303 3rd Did not qualify
2021-22 62 25 26 6 5 92 .495 243 242 1178 5th L, 0-2, Watertown Wolves
  1. ^ The FHL awards 3 points for a regulation time win, 2 points for an overtime win, and 1 point for an overtime or shootout loss



Regular Season MVP

Commissioner's Cup Playoffs MVP

Forward of the Year

Defenseman of the Year

Goaltender of the Year

Coach of the Year

Executive of the Year

Broadcaster of the Year

Goaltender of the Month

Rookie of the Month

Franchise leaders

All-time and season leaders:[24]

All-time regular season

All-time postseason

All-time (including regular season & postseason)

Season records

Postseason records


Average per game:


  1. ^ a b "Staff - Carolina Thunderbirds". Thunderbirds. Archived from the original on September 9, 2016. Retrieved September 9, 2016.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  2. ^ "Federal Hockey League games to be played at Annex". Winston-Salem Journal. March 7, 2017.
  3. ^ "FHL Formally Approves Expansion to Winston-Salem, NC - Carolina Thunderbirds". Thunderbirds. August 19, 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-09-09.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  4. ^ "THUNDERBIRDS NAME ANDRE NIEC HEAD COACH". FHL. June 5, 2017. Archived from the original on February 1, 2018. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
  5. ^ "Thunderbirds Sellout Home Opener, Down Knights 3-2 - Carolina Thunderbirds". Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  6. ^ "Carolina Thunderbirds coach suspended for actions after Sunday's game". Winston-Salem Journal. February 2, 2018.
  7. ^ "Coach takes a swing at a referee with a hockey stick after disagreeing with a call". The Sports Network. Retrieved January 31, 2018.
  8. ^ "THUNDERBIRDS STATEMENT REGARDING WEEKEND IN PORT HURON". Carolina Thunderbirds. January 31, 2018.
  9. ^ "History of WS Hockey". Carolina Thunderbirds. August 28, 2018.
  10. ^ "Niec suspended for six games by Federal Hockey League". Winston-Salem Journal. November 1, 2018.
  11. ^ "Thunderbirds Testing New Rule To Begin Games With A Shootout - Carolina Thunderbirds". Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  12. ^ Leahy, Sean (2018-11-29). "FHL team tweaks OT rules, will hold shootout before home games". ProHockeyTalk. Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  13. ^ "Thunderbirds Suspend Experimental Shootout Indefinitely - Official Site of the Federal Hockey League". Archived from the original on 2019-01-06. Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  14. ^ "Blackjack Carolina wins 21st straight game". Retrieved 2019-02-08.
  15. ^ "Making History: Thunderbirds all alone in record books with 22nd stright win". Retrieved 2019-02-08.
  16. ^ "All Good Things Must Come to an End". February 10, 2019.
  18. ^ "Scott Brand, the Thunderbirds general manager, resigns; Jimmy Milliken named as his replacement". Winston-Salem Journal. May 15, 2019.
  19. ^ "Carolina Thunderbirds' president Jimmy Milliken resigns". Winston-Salem Journal. February 8, 2020.
  20. ^ "Winston-Salem Thunderbirds will spend shortened hockey season playing all away games". Winston-Salem Journal. March 1, 2021.
  21. ^ "Carolina Thunderbirds are losing popular Coach Andre Niec to the NHL". Winston-Salem Journal. July 1, 2021.
  22. ^ "THUNDERBIRDS ANNOUNCE GARRETT RUTLEDGE AS NEW HEAD COACH". Carolina Thunderbirds. August 17, 2021.
  23. ^ "Carolina Thunderbird 2017-18 Standings". Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  24. ^ "Carolina Thunderbird Stats". Retrieved April 7, 2019.