Twin Soo Hockeytown

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.

SOO GREYHOUNDS

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.

SOO THUNDERBIRDS

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.

BATCHEWANA ATTACK

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.

SOO EAGLES

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.

SOO FIREHAWKS

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.

13 players on the Attack

They are lining up for the Attack.

Batchewana Attack of the new Canadian International Hockey League has received 10 player commitments in the past week, general manager Dennis Bolton has confirmed.

Batchewana now has commitments from 13 players as it prepares to host its main tryout camp at Rankin Arena in Sault Ste. Marie in early September.

The Attack held an initial tryout camp on the weekend that was attended by 28 players.

The most-recent commitments to Batchewana — the Attack will be coached by former National Hockey League winger and Ontario Hockey League coach Denny Lambert — are forwards Jason Uhl, RJ Marshall, Nate Harris, Robert Delury and Brian Stack, defencemen Nick Trecroce, Adam Baggs and Shane Zorzit and goalies Stefan Demetz and Jack Hickey.

Earlier, Batchewana had inked defencemen Cade Nolan and Johan Kling and forward Jacob Palmerio.

Uhl, Trecroce, Baggs, Zorzit, Nolan and Palmerio are all Sault Ste. Marie area products.

Marshall, Harris, Delury, Stack and Hickey are all American-born players.

Demetz is from Italy and Kling hails from Sweden.

CIHL switch

As it stands, the new Canadian International Hockey League will begin the 2014-2015 season with eight teams — four in northern Ontario and four in southern Ontario.

CIHL founder and president Tim Clayden said that the Central Ontario HTI Stars will be replaced by a Toronto entry and that the new league will proceed with eight teams as planned.

Carefully choosing his words on the advice of legal counsel, Clayden said the departure of the Central Ontario franchise from the CIHL is “a personal and sensitive issue.

“At this time, we feel it is best for us to cut ties with owner Jenya Feldman and the Central Ontario HTI Stars,” said Clayden. “It is unfortunate for Jenya as we certainly understand his passion for junior hockey. But to be quite honest, Jenya and his team have no other option now but to join the unsanctioned Greater Metro Hockey League.”

Clayden said the CIHL still has a regular-season schedule in place for eight teams — Batchewana Attack, Espanola Rivermen St. Charles Spirit and Sudbury Royals in the north and Colborne Hawks, Collingwood Ice, Milton Battle Arts Cobras and the yet-to-be-named Toronto team in the south.

The CIHL will begin regular-season play during the first week of October.

Blind River to Northland College

Tim Perks, a 1993 birth-year forward who finished the 2013-2014 season with a flourish for Blind River Beavers of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, is off to the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks.

It has been confirmed that the 6-foot-3, 185 pound Perks will play for the Division 3, Northland College Lumberjacks effective the upcoming 2014-2015 season.

An Oxford, Michigan product, Perks had 8 goals, 6 assists, 14 points in just 18 games with Blind River after being obtained from the Yarmouth Mariners of the Maritime Jr. Hockey League late in the ’13-14 campaign.

NOJHL to CIHL

Sudbury Royals of the new Canadian International Hockey League have tapped local product Trevor Blanchard to be their head coach.

KB Beals, director of hockey operations for the Royals, has confirmed the hiring of Blanchard, who was born and raised in Sudbury.

The 31-year old Blanchard played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League as a hard-nosed left winger who suited up with Owen Sound and Mississauga before playing 98 games over two terms with his hometown Sudbury Wolves for legendary coach Bert Templeton.

In addition to his on-ice efforts that produced 43 goals and 101 points over parts of four seasons, Blanchard was twice named OHL scholastic-player-of-the-year.

Blanchard later played three seasons at Concordia University and played profesionally in the Scottish Premier League where he was team captain for the Dundalk Bulls.

Academically, Blanchard holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Concordia.

As a coach, Blanchard has experience that includes stops with the Sudbury Nickel Barons of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League as well as the Sudbury Wolves AAA bantams and Nickel City Sons AAA bantams.

He has also coached at Ontario Hockey Federation and Northern Ontario Hockey Association program of excellence camps.

In becoming head coach of the Sudbury entry into the new CIHL, which is an Ontario-based junior league, Blanchard will lead the Royals into what is an eight-team loop effective the upcoming 2014-2015 season.

Joining Sudbury as members of the CIHL for its inaugural 2014-2015 campaign are the Batchewana Attack, Espanola Rivermen, St. Charles Spirit, Central Ontario HTI Stars, Colborne Cramahe Hawks, Milton Battle Arts Cobras and Collingwood Ice.

New Collingwood team hires a coach

Owner-general manager Tim Dickieson of the Collingwood Ice of the new Canadian International Hockey League has named Marko Fiser as the team’s first-ever head coach.

Fiser joins the Ice with significant coaching and playing experience with teams and leagues in Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden.

Fiser has been coaching since 2005, most recently for the top-ranked HDK Maribor semi-pro team in the Slovenian Ice Hockey League.

Originally from Slovenia, Fiser has degrees from the University of Ljubljana in physical education and sports and ice hockey coaching.

He also holds the highest level of Slovenia Ice Hockey Federation certification.

Collingwood has made another addition to its coaching staff.

Dickieson has confirmed that the Ice has hired Matthew Treadwell as its goalie and fitness coach.

Treadwell holds an associates degree in science with a major in sports nutrition and fitness management from Morrisville State College of New York.

As a goalie, Treadwell played Division 3, National Collegiate Athletic association hockey while attending Morrisville.

An Ontario-based junior league, membership in the CIHL currently stands at eight teams heading into the inaugural 2014-2015 season.

In addition to Collingwood, other CIHL teams are Central Ontario HTI Stars, Colborne Cramahe Hawks, Milton Battle Arts Cobras, St. Charles Spirit, Greater Sudbury Royals, Espanola Rivermen and Batchewana Attack.

For complete coverage of the CIHL, visit HockeyNewsNorth.com.

Sudbury is 8th team in new CIHL

The new Canadian International Hockey League has added an eighth team — and fourth from Northern Ontario.

Under the ownership of the father-son duo of Dr. Martin Beals and KB Beals, the Greater Sudbury Royals will be based out of the Capreol Community Arena.

The younger Beals, a Sudbury area businessman, said he and his dad want to bring “a level of much-needed entertainment to local hockey fans in the Capreol, Hanmer and Val Caron area.

“We believe the community will have a sense of pride and ownership in the Royals,” Beals added. “Community interaction is important to our agenda and we welcome local businesses and patrons to be a part of it.

“My dad and I would like to say that we are very happy to be part of the founding fathers of the CIHL with president Tim Clayden,” Beals continued.

The elder Beals will serve as president of the Royals and his son will be director of operations.

Meanwhile, the Royals have signed their first two players and both are area products with prior junior experience in the Greater Metro Hockey League. They are 1994 birth-year goalie Jake Mactaggart and 1995 birth-year forward Paul Recollet.

Mactaggart played three seasons of junior in the GMHL while the 6-foot-5, 220 pound Recollet — who answers to the nickname Little Bear — is coming off his first year in the junior ranks.

Mactaggart hails from Sudbury while Recollet is a native of Wahnapitae First Nation.

The Royals become the CIHL’s fourth Northern Ontario-based team joining the Espanola Rivermen, St. Charles Spirit and Sault Ste. Marie-based Batchewana Attack.

Other members of the now-eight-team CIHL are Central Ontario HTI Stars, Colborne Cramahe Hawks, Milton Battle Arts Cobras and Collingwood Ice.

CIHL moves into the Soo

Junior hockey is returning to Rankin Arena in Sault Ste. Marie after a 32-year hiatus.

Batchewana Attack has become the seventh team in the new Canadian International Hockey League, which will begin play effective the upcoming 2014-2015 season.

The Attack will be based out of Rankin Arena, which housed the Soo Thunderbirds of the erstwhile International Jr. B Hockey League from 1978 until 1982.

Sault Ste. Marie native David Maciuk is a major investor in the Batchewana team and will also serve as president and director of hockey operations for the Attack.

Maciuk, who played in the Ontario Hockey League for Soo Greyhounds during the 1973-1974 season before moving to Chicago where he was a high-scoring forward at the minor-pro level for a number of years, said the Attack will work closely with Batchewana First Nation, which operates Rankin Arena.

“We are grateful and appreciative for the opportunity to work with the Batchewana First Nation,” said Maciuk. “The support has been overwhelming on this endeavour and we look forward to starting our program for student-athletes throughout North America along with future programs to further attract and develop First Nation student-athlete hockey players.

“Our entire Attack organization is looking forward to a bright and long-term future working with the Batchewana First Nation and bringing the new CIHL to junior hockey fans in the Sault Ste. Marie area,” Maciuk added.

Meantime, Rankin Arena manager Dan Sayers Sr. is thrilled to have a junior hockey tenant.

“We are excited beyond belief to be working with the new CIHL and the Batchewana Attack,” said Sayers, who lauded CIHL president and founder Tim Clayden for instigating the deal to put a team into Rankin Arena.

“Tim has been instrumental in helping to bring junior hockey back to our First Nation facility,” said Sayers. “We look forward to working with the CIHL and hosting the Attack where players from throughout North America including Sault Ste. Marie and our First Nations will be equally welcomed.”

Clayden, from his end, said reaching a deal with Chief Dean Sayers and the Batchewana Band Council to play out of Rankin Arena was a “thorough process and beneficial to the parties involved.

“The CIHL is very proud to have an opportunity to work with the Batchewana First Nation. This is about non-native and native peoples working together in sport and is something that all involved can be very proud of.

“We wish to thank Batchewana First Nation Chief and Council for their approval and support of the CIHL and the Batchewana Attack hockey club. We would also like to thank Dan Sayers for his efforts in making junior at the Rankin Arena a reality. Chi-miigwetch,” said Clayden.

Clayden, who has spent a lifetime in junior hockey as a general manager and owner of teams, likes what the equally-seasoned Maciuk will bring to the CIHL as primary owner of the Batchewana franchise.

“The Attack ownership group is very strong led by David Maciuk, who I know will leave no ice pad unturned to find the best native and non native student-athlete hockey players throughout North America to provide a very competitive and exciting team for the entire area to take pride in. There is no doubt the Rankin Arena will be rocking this winter,” Clayden added.

During the 2013-2014 season, Rankin Arena was home to a regular-season game involving the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and drew in excess of 500 fans to the single outing.

“That was what got us looking at the Rankin in the first place,” said Maciuk, who now begins the process of hiring a coach-general manager for the Attack and recruiting area players for the 2014-2015 season.

Of note, the Attack will be forming a club community steering committee with the intent of establishing a direction that “best suits hockey fans from Batchewana First Nation and the Sault Ste. Marie area,” said Maciuk.

Those interested in being a part of the committee can contact the Attack front office via e-mail, info@soojuniorhockey.com.

With Batchewana on board, the CIHL now stands at seven teams as it prepares for its inaugural season.

Other teams are the Espanola Rivermen, St. Charles Spirit, Central Ontario HTI Stars, Colborne Cramahe Hawks, Milton Battle Arts Cobras and Collingwood Ice.

The CIHL — where Canadian and American players will share equal status as non-imports and teams can utilize as many 12 Europeans and unlimited 15-and-16-year olds — is part of the sanctioned United Hockey Union under the umbrella of the Amateur Athletic Union.

Along with the CIHL, the Midwest Jr. Hockey League, Northern States Hockey League and Western States Hockey League are members of the UHU.

Twin Soo rivalry nenewed

Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Soo Eagles of the North American Hockey League will resume the Rollie King Cup series after a two-year hiatus, officials from both teams have confirmed.

The cross-border Soo teams established the Rollie King Cup during the 2011-2012 season when both were members of the NOJHL.

But the series was halted by the Northern Ontario Hockey Association when the Eagles left the NOJHL for the NAHL effective the 2012-2013 campaign.

The series between the Twin Soo teams honours the late Rollie King, a Michigan Soo native who crossed the International Bridge in the mid-1960s to play for the Soo Greyhounds when they were members of the NOHA. King then served the United States of America in the Vietnam War and later died of leukemia before his 30th birthday.

The resumption of the Rollie King Cup between the Thunderbirds and Eagles has officials from both teams pleased.

“We know how happy this will make the family of Rollie King,” said Eagles owner Ron Lavin. “The Soo Eagles would like to thank NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca for stepping up and helping to revive the Rollie King Cup series.”

Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo added that the resumption of the Rollie King Cup series between his team and the Thunderbirds “is a long time coming. We enjoyed the rivalry we had with the Thunderbirds when we were in the same league. It will be great to be able to play them again for the Rollie King Cup.”

And Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain noted that, “We have missed playing the games against the Eagles. I know how much fans on both sides of the St. Mary’s River used to enjoy the great Thunderbirds-Eagles rivalry.”

The teams will play a two-game series on Friday, September 5 and Saturday, September 6, both at Pullar Stadium in the Michigan Soo.

Advance tickets can be reserved by calling the Soo Eagles office, 906-259-0522.

Soo Eagles eye area talent

As Soo Eagles prepare for their third season as members of the North American Hockey League, coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo continues to try to take advantage of the area talent pool.

Already on the Eagles roster as seasoned skaters are Sault Ste. Marie products Michael Caruso and Denver Pierce.

Caruso is a 1995 birth-year defenceman from the Canadian side of the St. Mary’s River while Pierce, a 1995 birth-year forward, hails from south of the International Bridge.

Anxious to add more locals to the lineup, Bragagnolo has tendered and drafted multiple area players as he plans ahead for the 2014-2015 NAHL season.

I recently chatted with Bragagnolo about the local additions to the Eagles.

Following is a transcript of the interview.

RUSSON: Let’s start with the local products that the Eagles tendered prior to the recent NAHL draft. Who are they, what are their positions and what is their backround?

BRAGAGNOLO: We tendered forwards William Gauthier and Chase Gamelin, who played for the Sault High Blue Devils last year. I have watched them closely the last two years and have been very impressed by their play. Will is a great-skating, highly-skilled forward with great vision and has a goal-scorer’s touch. He also has a verbal commitment to the Lake Superior State Lakers. Chase is a big, strong power-forward-type player who also has a nice skill set and has a very strong shot. Both have played well together, there seems to be a good chemistry there. I can see both of them turning into very good NAHL players. We also tendered another Upper Peninsula player from Houghton named Raymond Bryce. He is another big strong forward with a high skill level and scoring ability. All three of these boys are considered to be among some of the top players in the UP. I would like to add that there are several other local players who play for either the Indians major midgets or Sault High or across the river in Soo, Canada who have a chance to play in the NAHL in the next couple of years or sooner.

RUSSON: At the June 3 NAHL Draft the Eagles selected Garden River First Nation defenceman Owen Headrick from the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and forward Cole Lussier from the major midget Soo Indians.

BRAGAGNOLO: Yes, both players are also local boys and we think they also will be strong contributors at the NAHL level or beyond. Owen is a young D-man that we have watched all year playing for the T-Birds. He is a great skater and has outstanding defensive instincts. He is very calm and efficient on the ice for a young player and has some nice offensive ability to go along with a very effective shot that he is able to get to the net consistently from the point. He is an Erie Otters (Ontario Hockey League) draft pick and also has been offered a commitment from LSSU. We think he will be an instant impact player on our blueline. Cole is a local player who played at the forward position for the Soo Indians major midget team. We watched him play a lot this year both in practice and in games. He is also a young player with a bright future ahead of him. We brought him up and played him in a game at the end of the season and he did a good job for us. He is a lanky forward with a very good hockey IQ, very good skill set and also very-responsible defensively.

RUSSON: No question that there is talent aplenty in the Twin Soos but the fact is the Eagles, as members of the NAHL, are restricted in the number of import players you can have.

BRAGAGNOLO: Yes Randy, you are right there is a boat load of young players on both sides of the St. Mary’s River here. Unfortunately right now we are only allowed to have four imports by USA Hockey rules. I hear that there is talk about them changing or amending those rules. I am hoping those rules will change in the next year or two because I could see us fielding a team of 12-15 players from between the Twin Soos. That I think would be something special. The talent is definitely here so we will see what happens but that is one of the goals of our organization.