There will be no shortage of junior hockey teams and players to follow in Sault Ste. Marie come the 2014-2015 season.
On the Canadian side of the International Bridge, the Batchewana Attack of the new Canadian International Hockey League have joined the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League as Ontario-based junior teams.
Then there is the American side of the St. Mary’s River which is home to the Michigan-based Soo Eagles of the North American Hockey League and the Soo Firehawks of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League.
With the start of the 2014-2015 season looming for the five Twin Soo junior teams, let’s check in with them.
Easily the top draw of the five junior teams that are housed within the Twin Soo market, the Greyhounds are coming off a 95-point regular season that ended in the second round of the playoffs in 2013-2014.
To be sure, the Greyhounds will be a major threat again in 2014-2015 with a host of veteran players that include impact standouts led by forwards Sergey Tolchinsky and Jared McCann.
While there is a new face in the Greyhound front office, the coaching staff returns virtually intact with Sheldon Keefe at the helm. Not since Craig Hartsburg was barking out commands from back of the bench have the Hounds had the success that they have reached under Keefe.
What to expect from the Hounds of 2014-2015?
A Traverse City product, first-year starter Brandon Halverson steps into the pressure cooker that is the goal crease and the second-round, National Hockey League draft pick of the New York Rangers will be asked to aptly replace the graduated Matt Murray between the pipes.
How Halverson responds to being the main man will determine whether or not the Greyhounds go shopping for added experience between the pipes.
As is the case with just about any team at the high performance level of hockey, goaltending is the position that most often spells the difference between winning and losing.
Halverson aside, the Greyhounds are certainly well-positioned for another good run in 2014-2015.
The no. 1 ranked team in all of Canadian Junior A hockey in 2013-2014, the Thunderbirds went all the way to the NOJHL championship series only to come up a tad short.
Undaunted, Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain has rostered another squad that will reach for the top of the NOJHL again in 2014-2015 under coach Jordan Smith.
Seasoned skater Anthony Miller is a forward who should be among the NOJHL scoring leaders as a 20-year old.
A skilled, artful player on the ice, Miller is a team leader and all-around good character kid who has the potential to advance beyond the junior hockey level after this season.
Other returnees who should be among the top two-line forwards are Jaren Bellini and Nic Tassone. Like Miller, Bellini and Tassone are Soo products.
Deep up front and on the blueline as well, the Thunderbirds will promote Brian Kment to the starting goaltending position following the requested trade of Joel Horodjieczyk to another Junior A league.
The Soo’s new junior team will play out of Rankin Arena, which is viewed as an ideal venue for Junior A hockey.
Calling the shots as coach of the new Batchewana entry is Denny Lambert, a Soo favourite who needs little introduction as a former Greyhound player and coach and NHL journeyman winger of more than 500 career games.
The likeable Lambert will mix coaching the Attack with a full-time career as a security officer at Essar Steel — and his hiring by the Attack is seen as a definite coup on the part of the local CIHL team.
With more than 15 players already signed including Soo products such as defencemen Cade Nolan, Nick Trecroce, Shane Zorzit and Adam Baggs and forwards Jacob Palmerio, Jason Uhl, Jesse Delavalle, Darian Pilon and Drake Pilon, the Attack figure to have no shortage of followers among area fans.
Erstwhile veteran NOJHL associate coach Dennis Bolton will serve as Batchewana’s general manager.
Batchewana will be part of the inaugural CIHL season and one of four teams in the North Division in addition to the Espanola Rivermen, Sudbury Royals and St. Charles Spirit.
The CIHL will also have four teams in a South Division — Colborne Cramahe Hawks, Collingwood Ice, Milton Battle Arts Cobras and Toronto Jr. Hockey Academy.
Formerly of the NOJHL, now of the NAHL, this will mark the fifth season for the Eagles under the leadership of no-nonsense coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo.
After finishing in first place in the North Division of the NAHL in 2012-2013, the Eagles missed the post-season in 2013-2014 but can return a nest of high-end players in 2014-2015 led by defencemen Michael Caruso and Kristofers Bindulis and forwards Sandis Zolmanis, Nick Belger and Chase Matson.
The Eagles play their home games at venerable Pullar Stadium in downtown Michigan Soo.
Coached by Michigan Soo product Joe Esson, the Firehawks are part of a nine-team MWJHL that plays their games at Big Bear Arena.
Other teams in the MWJHL are Traverse City Hounds, Alpena Flyers, Detroit Fighting Irish, Berkley Bruins, Michigan Ice Dogs, West Michigan Freeze, MC Monarchs and Decatur Blaze.