Looking ahead to next season

Randy Russon
May 6, 2019

It is an annual refrain heard throughout the nation at all levels of the game. One hockey season ends and talk summarily begins about the next one.

‘Wait until next year’ defines hope, optimism, vision and planning ahead to the next opportunity that awaits players, coaches, managers and supporters of teams from minor hockey to junior hockey and beyond.

After all, there is only one team in a given league whose last game of the season results in a championship.

And while championships remain the ultimate goal of a team or an association, there is so much more to the game than just winning the last match of the season.

There is player development. There is player advancement. There is keeping parents and sponsors and fans happy and believing in the product and the system.

As examples, let us take a look at six teams from four different leagues whose decision makers, players and supporters are already looking ahead to the 2019-2020 season.


For six straight seasons, the Greyhounds have won at least one round of the playoffs in the Ontario Hockey League. On one occasion they made it to the Western Conference finals before losing and another time they got all the way to the OHL finals only to come up short.

Fresh from a 96-point regular season in 2018-2019, the Greyhounds overachieved under rookie head coach John Dean. They then took the measure of the Owen Sound Attack in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out to the Saginaw Spirit in the Western Conference semi-finals.

The Greyhounds will graduate some of their best players ahead of the 2019-2020 season with leading scorer Morgan Frost headed for work somewhere within the National Hockey League organization of the Philadelphia Flyers and points-producing defenceman Mac Hollowell ready to turn pro within the Toronto Maple Leafs system. And unless he returns as an overage player, workhorse goalie Matthew Villalta is ticketed for a spot somewhere with the Los Angeles Kings organization.

There is also the possibility that forward Barrett Hayton could make the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes as a 19-year old. And if that should happen, it will seriously alter the look of the Greyhounds top forward line for next season.

The Greyhounds do return significant personnel for next season led by forwards Cole MacKay and Ryan Roth and defencemen Ryan O’Rourke and Holden Wale.


Coming off a third-place finish in the West Division of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League followed by a six-game, semi-final playoff series loss to end the 2018-2019 season, the Michigan-based Eagles will get a head start on the 2019-2020 campaign with an upcoming camp.

Eagles general manager Bruno Bragagnolo has confirmed a spring tryout camp for May 23-25 at Big Bear Arena in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Players wishing to register for the tryout camp can phone Bragagnolo at 847-921-4543 or fill out the paper work via www.sooeagles.net.

Though the Eagles can return more than 15 players for next season, several of the eligible returnees have sights set on moving up to the North American Hockey League ranks.

To be sure, the Eagles have a good history of advancing players to the NAHL, the Ontario Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks.

Meanwhile, Bragagnolo said he expects three Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario products will all return to the Eagles for a second season in 2019-2020.

The trio consists of 2000 birth-year forwards Caleb Wood, Raf Praysner and Owen Shier.

Wood had 19 goals, 17 assists, 36 points for the Eagles this past season while Praysner put up 14-19-33 totals and Shier had 5-7-12 numbers.

As for the coaching staff, Bragagnolo has confirmed that Doug Laprade will return as bench boss for a second season in 2019-2020. Laprade is a former Division 1, NCAA champion as both a player and an assistant coach with the Lake Superior State Lakers.


Having the best record during the 2018-2019 regular season did not carry over to winning the NOJHL playoff championship for the Thunderbirds.

The no. 1 seed Thunderbirds came up a match short to the no. 2 seed Hearst Lumberjacks in the NOJHL finals, losing on home ice in the seventh-and-deciding game of the league championship series.

Looking ahead to the 2019-2020 season, the Thunderbirds can return all but four of their players from the 2018-2019 team. The list of eligible returnees includes top scoring forwards Lucas Theriault, Noah Boman and Nick Smith.

Others who can return next season include serviceable forwards Matthew Bazarin, Nolan Ford and Avery Rebek and a crew of better than average defensemen from among Steven Bellini, Bradon Caruso, Tristan Cicchello and Jonathan Mackin.

Starting goalie Colin Ahern and backup William Anderson also have junior eligibility remaining.

Meanwhile, even though all of the above can return to the Thunderbirds for next season, some will have the opportunity to move on, be it ascension to the OHL or a college program — or a lateral move to another Junior A level loop.

In that case, the Thunderbirds have a number of players from the local midget ranks that they can look to — among others — when they stage their spring tryout camp this weekend.

As for the coaching staff, bench boss John Parco has indicated he would like to return for a third season at the helm.

However, associate coach Toots Kovacs has officially confirmed to Hockey News North that he won’t be back with the Thunderbirds next season.


Hard-working head coach Jamie Henderson moves up from the local minor midget program to take charge of the Soo entry in the Great North Midget Hockey League.

The Major Greyhounds had more than 40 players show up for a recent tryout camp and Henderson is expected to finalize his roster for the 2019-2020 season sometime this month.

Henderson will choose his squad from among players with 2002, 2003 and 2004 birth dates and after several ho-hum seasons, the Soo is expected to be a force in the Great North come the 2019-2020 campaign.


The Great North Midget Hockey League team has already signed nine players ahead of the 2019-2020 season including six returnees and three newcomers.

Majors head coach Brandon Perry confirmed to Hockey News North that veterans Landon Deforge, Jesse Dupuis, Pierre Racicot, Desmond Brazeau, Mason Berthiaume and Keaston (Sticks) Blais are all slated to return to the Timmins lineup next season.

Deforge, Dupuis, Racicot and Brazeau are all forwards while Berthiaume and Blais are defensemen.

Also signed were a trio of rookies — forwards Brad Moore and Harry Clark and goalie Julien Lefebvre.

The signings were all made official following the Majors spring tryout camp from the Easter weekend.

Perry said that a number of rookies from the recent tryout have been invited back to the Majors main camp that is scheduled for August.

“We talked to every single kid and told them what they need to work on and how they have four months to take what we tell them and get to work,” Perry told Hockey News North. “The ones who take that seriously have the best chance at making the team in August.”

Perry added that it is not uncommon for a young player to hit a growth spurt in a short time.

“A 14 or 15 year old can grow two to three inches and add 10 pounds in a summer so why would we not give them that time to better themselves and come back in August a totally transformed athlete,” Perry reasoned.


Long-time Sault Ste. Marie coach Patrick Carricato is returning to the game with the major midget Soo Indians alongside general manager Mike (Zeke) Kaunisto.

It is a return engagement for the 47-year old Carricato to re-join Kaunisto and the Indians. Carricato had previously coached the Indians under Kaunisto for a couple of winters of Michigan Amateur Hockey Association play before opting to take a three-year break from the game.

Several weeks ago, with the Indians looking to replace outgoing head coach Sean Tallaire, Carricato said he heard from Kaunisto, the Michigan Soo’s team’s veteran GM.

“So, when Mike called and came to see me and we talked about coaching again, I started to get excited again,” Carricato told Hockey News North. “Mike and his staff have being working really hard on recruiting since the (2018-2019) season ended and planning on wanting to be more competitive.”

The Michigan Soo squad finished with an overall record of 11-38-9 through 58 games in 2018-2019 and Kaunisto, as the GM, wants to see the Indians be more of a factor moving forward.

The Indians have already held an invitational camp and will be playing in a spring showcase in Plymouth, Michigan from May 31 through June 2.

Soo Indians general manager Mike Kaunisto (left) has brought coach Pat Carricato (right) out of retirement to man the bench of the Michigan-based major midget team. (Photo by Allana Plaunt.)
Forward Avery Rebek (left) of the Soo Thunderbirds is one of several players eligible to return to the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL next season. (Photo by Rod Aubertin.)
Forwards Raf Praysner, Caleb Wood and Owen Shier are all poised to return to the Soo Eagles for a second NOJHL season. (Photo by Hockey News North.)

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