Author Archives: Randy Russon

Chicago to Sault Ste. Marie

Kendall Huckins may be from Chicago but he is feeling at home in Sault Ste. Marie.

Huckins, a 1996 birth-year forward, is taking to living away from home and playing for the Batchewana Attack of the new Canadian International Hockey League.

“I love it here. I love living here and playing for the Attack and for a great coach in Denny Lambert,” said the effervescent Huckins. “Coming from Chicago, I did not know what to expect playing for a new team in a new league but it has been great.”

Huckins joined the Batchewana team on the recommendation of Attack president-director of hockey operations David Maciuk, a Sault Ste. Marie native who has player-related business interests in the Chicago area.

“I was looking to play at the junior level and Dave pointed me this way,” said Huckins, who skated for the Chicago Young Americans major midget team in 2013-2014.

“We have a very-good team and like I said, Denny is a great coach who I have learned so much from in such a short period of time,” Huckins continued.

Huckins added that he is impressed with the level of play in the eight-team CIHL.

“We haven’t seen all the teams yet but we have had some really good games with Espanola and St. Charles so far,” said Huckins. “It’s a good league.”

Huckins said the Attack is a close-knit team and being far away from family and friends in Chicago has been made easier by the bonds he has made with his Batchewana teammates.

“The guys on the team all get along, whether they are the local players, the Americans or the guys from Europe,” Huckins noted.

The slender-albeit-hard-edged forward aspires to play at the National Collegiate Athletic Association “at some point” but with considerable eligibility remaining at the junior level, his focus is on the Attack.

“I came here to play junior and to develop as a hockey player and so far it’s all working out,” Huckins concluded. “I am pretty happy with how things are going so far, that’s for sure.”

Otters loom as Erie foes

The team that eliminated the Soo Greyhounds in the second round of the 2013-2014 playoffs looms as a formidable foe again in 2014-2015.

A high-powered, hard-skating, well-coached outfit in 2013-2014, the Erie Otters have more of the same in 2014-2015.

The Otters put up 106 points to finish second overall in the 20-team OHL in 2013-2014 and they are once again a top contender in 2014-2015.

As good as the Greyhounds are again this season — they managed 95 points of their own last season — the Otters also have their sights set on the big OHL prize.

Well-coached by Kris Knoblauch, Erie is a team that has been well-constructed by director of hockey operations Dave Brown and director of scouting Scott Halpenny, who both report to owner-general manager Sherry Bassin.

After years as an OHL cellar-dweller, Erie returned to prominence in 2013-2014, thanks in a large part to the re-construction efforts of Brown and Halpenny and the move by Bassin to bring aboard Knoblauch as bench boss.

And it’s not as though the Otters are a one-or-two-year wonder.

One look at the Otters and their high-scoring threesome of Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat tells a story of how well Brown and Halpenny have done their jobs.

As players who were all born in 1997, McDavid, Strome and DeBrincat are very young by OHL standards — and are having big-time, point-producing seasons thus far.

Compare the rosters of the Otters and Greyhounds and both are deep in talent up front and back of the blueline. Both teams also have better-than-average goaltenders in the starting position with Devin Williams the no. 1 guy in Erie and Brandon Halverson as the Soo’s first-stringer.

Point is, as the Greyhounds evolved as a Western Conference powerhouse in 2013-2014, so too have the Otters.

Let’s not forget that the Greyhounds not only lost to the Otters in the second round of last spring’s playoffs, they were swept right out of the post-season.

Yes, the Greyhounds are a very-good team again this season.

But so too are the Otters.

Who will be the ultimate winners in all of this?

Fans from both teams, that is for sure.

Top Dogs of the OHL

A National Hockey League scout who has seen what the Soo Greyhounds have likes what he sees.

The scout in question — who asked not to be named, citing confidentiality of the NHL team that he represents — opined that the 2014-2015 Greyhounds have the makings of an Ontario Hockey League championship team.

In fact, the NHL scouts lists — in order — the Greyhounds, Erie Otters, Guelph Storm, North Bay Battalion and Kingston Frontenacs as the top five OHL teams, in his opinion.

To be sure, it is hard not to like this Greyhound team, which got stronger last week with the return of late-developing overage forward Jean Dupuy from an American Hockey League tryout.

Without question, graduated general manager Kyle Dubas has left the Greyhounds in tip-top shape for head coach Sheldon Keefe to build on the 95 points that the team piled up in 2013-2014.

Goalie Brandon Halverson, an NHL prospect of the New York Rangers, has shrugged off the concerns about his sometimes-jittery ways as a 2013-2014 rookie to look cool, calm, collected and confident through the early going of 2014-2015.

In the minds of many, as Halverson goes, so will the Greyhounds go in 2014-2015.

“We were ready to take him in the third round but the Rangers beat us to him,” according to the NHL scout. “Halverson is a pro in the making.”

The blueline is OHL-game ready and the forward lines that feature Sergey Tolchinsky, Jared McCann, Blake Speers, David Miller, Dupuy et al are deep and experienced.

It is mid October and the grit and grind of five more months of games remains to be played.

But coach Keefe is not one to rest on a winning streak and his approach to the game and his own personal goals make this talented lot of Greyhounds even more dogged, determined and dangerous.

What does the NHL scout like most about the Greyhounds?

“They have bona-fide OHLers playing on the fourth line and in an instance or two, healthy scratches who should be in the lineup.”

Well noted.

Soo GM to lead Team NOJHL

Three members of the Soo Thunderbirds will lead the staff which will oversee the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League squad that will compete at the Central Canada Cup Challenge, to be be held November 14-16 at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto.

The 2014 Central Canada Cup Challenge will feature nine competing all-star teams, including one from the NOJHL, two apiece from the Central Canada Hockey League and Quebec Jr. Hockey League and four from the host Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

Heading up the NOJHL staff as director of operations is Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain and head coach Jordan Smith, who will serve in a similar capacity for Team NOJHL.

Joining Smith behind the bench as assistant coaches will be Ryan Maunu of the Thunderbirds and Sault Ste. Marie resident Don Gagnon, who is the head coach of the Blind River Beavers.

Rounding out the staff as athletic trainers are Lisa Parise of the Sudbury Nickel Barons and Carla Vine of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.

All of the nine participating teams at the Central Canada Cup Challenge will play two round-robin games.

After round-robin competition, the teams will be rated on their overall performance and be re-seeded for the playoff round with each team vying for the CCCC championship.

“The NOJHL is pleased to once again be competing in this high-profile event that will feature some of the premier players from our league going up against some of the elite talent from the CCHL, QJHL and OJHL,” noted NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca.

The players who will comprise the NOJHL roster for the CCCC will be selected by Cain, Smith, Maunu and Gagnon.

The Team NOJHL roster is expected to be finalized by the end of October.

NOJHL Eskimos to CIHL Spirit

St. Charles Spirit of the new Canadian International Hockey League has signed four new players, including three former members of the Abitibi Eskimos of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

St. Charles coach-general manager Scott Ginson told HockeyNewsNorth.com that the Spirit has added a trio of 1995 birth-year veterans who previously played in the NOJHL with Abitibi — centre Marc Dube, defenceman Bryce Robert and goalie Sylvain Miron.

Notably, all three players are from Iroquois Falls, which is home to the NOJHL Eskimos.

Ginson has also confirmed that the Spirit has signed 1994 birth-year forward Brady Constant from the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Jr. Hockey League.

Constant hails from The Pas, Manitoba.

In explaining the addition of the four new players, Ginson noted that “we needed to add depth in some areas and we feel that these four signings do exactly that.”

St. Charles opens the inaugural, 2014-2015 CIHL regular season this weekend with a home game against the nearby Sudbury Royals.

Batchewana Attack hires Drew Fata

Batchewana Attack of the new Canadian International Hockey League has hired former Ontario Hockey League and National Hockey League defenceman Drew Fata as its general manager.

Attack president and primary owner David Maciuk confirmed the hiring of Fata as the team’s GM and praised him as a “character individual with a strong hockey and business background.”

The 31-year old Fata — who just retired from pro hockey at the end of the 2013-2014 season — takes over as GM of the Attack following the departure of Dennis Bolton. With both sides citing philosophical differences, Bolton and the Attack recently parted ways.

As for Fata, the likeable, easy-to-get-along-with Sault Ste. Marie native becomes the latest well-known local hockey figure to join the Attack, which begins regular-season play in the new CIHL at Rankin Arena this Saturday night.

The Batchewana hockey department features longtime Soo Greyhounds player and coach and NHL forward Denny Lambert as head coach and erstwhile OHL first-rounder Trevor Solomon as assistant coach. Also on board with the Attack as scouts are veteran sleuths Jim Casola and Charly Murray.

Fata, as the GM of the Attack, brings more than deep hockey roots, which includes three seasons in the OHL, eight years at the minor-pro level, nine games in the NHL with the New York Islanders and three seasons overseas.

After turning pro at age 20, Fata continued his schooling in the off-season and is the holder of a Masters Degree in Business Administration.

Fata spent the last two seasons of his hockey career with the Sheffield Steelers of the British Elite Hockey League and worked on his MBA at the University of Sheffield.

CIHL, MWJHL showcase

Batchewana Attack and Espanola Rivermen of the new Canadian International Hockey League, in conjunction with the host Traverse City Hounds and their Midwest Jr. Hockey League partners, the Soo Firehawks, are slated to take to the ice as part of the first-ever, International College Classic Summit Showcase junior hockey tournament.

The event, to be hosted by two-time defending MWJHL regular-season and playoff champion Traverse City, will take place at the Hounds home arena, CENTRE Ice, this Friday and Saturday.

The CIHL and the MWJHL are both members of the sanctioned United Hockey Union.

As well, Batchewana and Espanola will both play games this weekend against the Kalkaska Rhinos, an independent junior team that is coached by former National Hockey League forward Krzysztof Oliwa.

“As a former NHL player, seeing the vision that Tim Clayden of CIHL Hockey and his UHU partner Scott Gardiner of the MWJHL and what they have planned for their league players moving forward suggests to me they each have their players interests at heart. Their shared league plans has to be one of the best laid visions I have seen in junior hockey to date,” said Oliwa.

“Providing the players with an opportunity to play in front of college scouts on a regular season basis is amazing and every athlete’s dream to be able to compete and showcase the hard work they have each put in. Myself as a coach, I only want all players to succeed at every opportunity that we can provide as junior hockey team operators and the CIHL vision is certainly working diligently in that direction each day,” Oliwa added.

Beyond the teams competing, various techniques and systems will be on display as all five squads will feature players from the United States, Canada and Europe – lending to a very diverse international player pool that will be taking part this weekend.

“This will be a very exciting weekend for our two teams, as well as those joining us from the CIHL,” said MWJHL commissioner Scott Gardiner. “As the MWJHL grows, along with CIHL Hockey joining the AAU this season, we are always looking at new ways of improving and moving the game forward and this showcase will serve that exact purpose.”

CIHL Hockey president Tim Clayden exclaimed that, “my first-ever phone call regarding our CIHL Hockey vision was with Mr. Gardiner, and it is a very exciting time to see our vision start to come into play. Scotty has a very good handle on Canadian junior hockey as he himself was an active member of the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League and he has also been a very active member executing the growth of junior hockey in the State of Michigan. This is just the tip of the ice visions we have shared as we plan to introduce three more very exciting college showcase weekends this season as well as our own CIHL Hockey Showcase in Collingwood, Ontario later this coming January, 2015.

“USA-based showcase weekends will be a very big part of CIHL Hockey regular season play moving forward, and why not, Canadian kids want to play in the USA seeking maximum NCAA and ACHA college exposure and both American and International lads want an experience of playing Canadian junior hockey teams. It’s a great match,” Clayden concluded.

SHOWCASE SCHEDULE

Friday, September 26

12:30 p.m – Batchewana Attack vs Kalkaska Rhinos

6:15 p.m. – Soo Firehawks vs. Espanola Rivermen

8:15 p.m. – Traverse City Hounds vs. Batchewana Attack

Saturday, September 27
11:30 p.m – Espanola Rivermen vs Kalkaska Rhinos

6 p.m. – Soo Firehawks vs. Batchewana Attack

8 p.m. – Traverse City Hounds Espanola Rivermen

“We are very much looking forward to the beginning of our own league vision of helping players advance as we promote them to their next level of play and that most certainly includes playing in front of NCAA and ACHA colleges along with our participating United Hockey Union partners of the Midwest Junior Hockey League,” said CIHL Hockey Director of Operations Randy Blake.

CIHL ready to set sail

The new Ontario-based, junior hockey league that detractors said would never hit the ice is less than three weeks away from the start of the 2014-2015 regular season.

With four teams in northern Ontario and four more from the southern area of the province, the Canadian International Hockey League is ready and set to go with a regular-season schedule to begin during the first week of October.

“Being new and having only been in the works for less than seven months, we are ecstatic to say that we have eight teams ready to play,” said CIHL founder and president Tim Clayden, who also owns the Espanola Rivermen, formerly of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

“We have had to overcome numerous bumps along the way and we know there will be more bumps ahead,” Clayden said evenly. “But we as a league and our member teams are prepared and ready for what lies ahead. We have good people in place with all eight of our teams and we have good people on our executive who know their way around the game.”

Clayden’s Espanola entry — which led the NOJHL in attendance in 2013-2014 — along with the Sault Ste. Marie-based Batchewana Attack, Sudbury Royals and St. Charles Spirit will comprise the North Division of the CIHL.

Colborne Cramahe Hawks, Collingwood Ice, Milton Battle Arts Cobras and Toronto Jr. Hockey Academy will make up the South Division.

What stands out about the CIHL is the number of coaches who have played the game at a high level, namely the Ontario Hockey League and the National Hockey League.

For instance, three grads of the OHL who went on to lengthy playing careers in the NHL, have been hired to coach teams in the new CIHL.

Combined, Milton’s Dennis Maruk, Batchewana’s Denny Lambert and Tom McCarthy of Espanola played in more than 1,900 NHL games.

Now, as coaches, Maruk, Lambert and McCarthy are just three individuals directly involved with the CIHL who give it big-time credibility.

The well-liked, well-respected Lambert joins the Attack following an 11-year association with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds — three seasons as a player, five as an assistant coach and three more as head coach.

The 44-year old Lambert will be assisted by 26-year old Trevor Solomon, who is a former OHL defenceman. In fact, Solomon played for the Greyhounds when Lambert was a coach.

A first for the new CIHL

The first-ever exhibition game for the new Canadian International Hockey League was played on Friday night at the Espanola Recreational Complex.

And in front of about 700 fans, the visiting Batchewana Attack blanked the Espanola Rivermen 6-0.

Robert Delury led the Attack with two goals, while Darian Pilon, Drake Pilon, Nate Harris and Sergei Koroshun tallied once apiece.

Grant Syrette, formerly of the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, chipped in with three assists for the Attack.

Goalies Stefan Demetz and Jack Hickey shared the shutout for Batchewana.

The Attack will play host to the Rivermen in another exhibition match on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Rankin Arena in Sault Ste. Marie.

September 3 Notes

Here ’n there on September 3:

BIRDS SIGN SICOLY

Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League have signed 1998 birth-year forward Nic Sicoly from the training camp of the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm.

The 5-foot-10, 160 pound Sicoly was taken by Guelph from the Toronto Marlboros minor midgets in the fourth round of the 2014 OHL draft.

Prior to moving away from home to play in Toronto in 2013-2014, Sicoly spent the 2012-2013 campaign with the Soo Thunder minor midgets.

BEAVERS ADD FRANK

Blind River Beavers of the NOJHL have added the venerable Frank Arcangeletti as their goalie coach.

“Frank has the ability to break down complex goaltending moves to their simplest form of explanation,” Beavers coach-director of hockey operations Don Gagnon told HockeyNewsNorth.com. “Frank is not only a tremendous teacher but is a student of the game.”

NICK TO DUTCHMEN

Kitchener Dutchmen of the Greater Ontario Jr. Hockey League looms as the latest stop for 1996 birth-year defenceman Nick Trecroce.

The 5-foot-7, 160 pound Trecroce followed two seasons with the erstwhile major midget Soo North Stars by starting the 2013-2014 campaign with the Smiths Falls Bears of the Central Canada Hockey League and finishing it in the NOJHL with Blind River.

Trecroce, who was a 14th-round pick of the Sudbury Wolves at the 2012 OHL draft, was slated to play for the Batchewana Attack of the new Canadian International Hockey League this season.

But after a strong showing at the recent OHL tryout camp of the Kitchener Rangers, Trecroce was offered a spot with the Dutchmen. The Dutchmen are an affiliate team of the OHL Rangers.