There are four high profile hockey teams that are based in the small town of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, which has a population of less than 14,000 full-time residents.
They include the Lake Superior State University Lakers, the Soo Eagles juniors, the under 18 Soo Indians, and the Sault High Blue Devils.
And following clearance from the state of Michigan, high school hockey has finally been able to begin the 2020-2021 regular season. Thus, the return to play of the Sault High squad.
How popular are the Blue Devils in their home town? Well, admired enough that two separately owned local radio stations — Eagle 95.1 and 1230 WSOO — carry live play by play broadcasts of Blue Devils hockey.
At any rate, as high school hockey in Michigan — along with other school and amateur sports — recently received the go ahead from Governor Gretchen Whitmer to return to game activity, the Blue Devils did just that on Wednesday evening against the visiting Cheboygan Chiefs.
And with the broadcast brothers of Tim Ellis and Clayton Ellis shaking off the microphone mustiness from months of mothball mist by providing the play by play to the listening audience of Eagle 95.1, the Blue Devils skated past the Chiefs to a 2-1 triumph at Big Bear Arena.
Sophomore forward Luke Eagle and junior forward Jory Homminga scored for Sault High to offset a marker from Cheboygan’s Caleb Williams — and the Blue Devils and their faithful followers had a happy home opener.
Homminga’s second period shorthanded goal was the game winner.
Two Sault High goalies — sophomore Tristan Forgrave and freshman Camden Labadie — combined for 23 saves in the game.
“We looked nervous for a lot of the game,” Sault High coach Rick Mackie told sports writer Rob Roos of the Evening News. “It did look like we haven’t played in a year. You could see there’s a lot to work on. Our power play wasn’t very good, but our penalty kill did some good work.
“We have things to polish up. Overall, it was nice to see that we were able to overcome some first-game jitters and get a win,” added Mackie.
In all, Sault High has a February slate of five games.
On the other side and of note, Cheboygan is coached by 57-year old Craig Coxe, who not only was a hulking forward for legendary coach Larry Mavety and the erstwhile Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League from 1982 to 1984, but went on to skate in 240 National Hockey League games with several teams.
Meanwhile, as the aforementioned LSSU Lakers and U18 Soo Indians have already seen considerable action in their respective associations, the Soo Eagles of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League have been rather creative.
With the United States-Canada international border in a closure that has moving in on a year of non essential service shutdown, the Eagles — who are the only American based team in the NOJHL — have taken to a season of exhibition games against squads from the North American Hockey League as well as schools from the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
And now, with Governor Whitmer having cleared Michigan amateur teams to return to play in the state, Eagles general manager Bruno Bragagnolo has told Hockey News North that he is working on a schedule of upcoming exhibition home games at Pullar Stadium.
“We are looking at having a number of home games over the next few months and when we finalize dates and teams, we will let everyone know,” relayed Bragagnolo.
Bragagnolo said that players on the Eagles have accepted the current climate, adding that “our coaching staff has done a great job of keeping the kids motivated. It is not the ideal situation but we are all trying our best to make the most of it. Our coaches and players have been great … now we just want to play some games at home and carry the season on.”