The first year head coach of the Soo Major Midget Thunderbirds is encouraged by the commitment that is being shown by his players in the early stages of the 2018-2019 Great North Midget Hockey League season.
Rookie bench boss Alex Cruise likes the way his squad has managed to remain positive through a bumpy beginning that had the Soo major midgets short on numbers to the tune of only 14 players including nine forwards, three defensemen and two goalies.
But some determined, relentless recruiting by Cruise and team manager Mike Creedon has since boosted the Soo major midgets roster to 19 players — 11 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies — with the Great North season into its first few weeks.
With a patched lineup that included the use of affiliate players from the Soo Minor Midget Thunderbirds, the Soo major midgets have made it through the first four games of the 2018-2019 regular season with one win and three losses to show for the matches that have all been played on home ice.
“We are a work in progress, that is for sure,” said the 28-year old Cruise, who despite his young age has four full seasons of prior coaching experience within the Sault Major Hockey Association ranks.
With its 1-3-0 record through four games, the Soo heads northeast for games in Kapuskasing, New Liskeard and Timmins at the end of the month. The time off in between has allowed the Soo to get in some much-needed practice time.
“It’s been our first opportunity with a full roster to get into more detail in terms of structure and getting used to one another,” Cruise said of the practice sessions.
Reflecting on the first four games of the season that have included the three losses, Cruise said that what has stood out to him and assistant coaches Chis Hales, Josh Dunn and Michael Schug is the resolve of the players.
“I would say the biggest thing with this group is that they haven’t given up,” Cruise noted. “They have shown us a commitment to the program and a willingness to learn. I always say a loss is only a loss if you don’t learn from it.”
Notably, the four-man coaching staff of Cruise, Hales, Dunn and Schug has good history together that includes their playing days in the Great North midget loop when they were teammates with the old Soo North Stars under the command of esteemed coach Mike Hall.
“We work well together,” Cruise said of himself and his three assistants. “We are fully committed to the program and developing the players. And yes, we all learned a lot from when we played for Mike.”
As for Cruise, who has full-time employment with the Ministry of Natural Resources, hockey is in his blood.
Soon after his own major midget playing days were over, he turned to officiating. Cruise quickly developed as an official to advance to referee games in the Great North and the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League as well as becoming a linesman in the Ontario Hockey League.
Meanwhile, with such a focus on the task at hand as the bench boss of the Soo major midgets, Cruise said he likes a lot of what he has seen despite the Thunderbirds record of 1-3-0 to date.
“It’s a long season ahead and we are looking at improving as a team now that we have so many committed players on board,” Cruise said evenly.
Statistically, forward Michael Chaffay leads the Soo major midgets in scoring through the four games with one goal, three assists, four points. Forward Nick Niro and defenseman Michael Barone are next with 1-2-3 totals. And between the pipes, Noah Zeppa has the Soo’s only victory to date.
Following is the updated Soo major midget 19-player roster.
GOALIES: Andrew Uschenko 2001; Noah Zeppa, 2002.
DEFENSEMEN: Mackenzie Ableson, 2001; Jordan Ritchie, 2001; Don Davidson, 2001; Michael Barone, 2002; Beau Neveau, 2002, Travis Dowhaniuk, 2002.
FORWARDS: Cole Delarosbil, 2001; Cole Ambeault, 2001; Kurtis Rogers, 2001; Brock Santa Maria, 2002 (in photo); Michael Chaffay, 2002; Nick Jameus, 2002; Nick Niro, 2002; Issac Parise, 2002; Jacob Sewell; 2002; Nathan Fortin 2002, Jason McCormick, 2002.