Soo Jr. Greyhounds are the sole occupants of first place in the Great North Midget Hockey League. On Christmas break and with a record of 17-4-2, the Jr. Greyhounds are on pace to post the Soo major midget program’s best mark since the 2016-2017 season.
The Jr. Greyhounds of 2016-2017 finished in third place in the Great North that regular season with 55 points from a record of 26-7-3 before being ousted by the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves three games to one in the second round of the playoffs.
Now, three seasons later, the Jr. Greyhounds have returned to prominence under new head coach Jamie Henderson, who has brought a structured, disciplined, team-first mentality to the local major midget program.
As Henderson is a on a bit of a relax following a grueling first half of the season which had the Jr. Greyhounds out of town for multiple tournaments in addition to league play, he relayed positive comments about his team’s performance to date.
“We always want to see individual improvement in our players and in our play as a team but we as a staff are really happy with the way the first half of the season has gone,” said Henderson, while guesting on a recent edition of the Hockey North Show on Sault Ste. Marie radio station ESPN 1400.
“Our practices have been good … our players have shown great commitment and we really like the position we are in right now. Having said that, first place is great but there is a lot of hockey to be played and as we have mentioned many times, there is a good deal of parity within our league,” Henderson added.
The Jr. Greyhounds have more than their share of youth on board with no less than eight players who have 2004 birth dates and are thus first-time eligible for the 2020 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
“I like our mix … we have the eight players with ’04 birth dates and they have blended in well with our older players (with 2003 and 2002 birth dates,”) Henderson noted.
Henderson said he has been approached by a number of OHL general managers and scouts about the eight Jr. Greyhounds who were born in 2004.
“It speaks to the good young talent that we have in that age group,” Henderson said evenly.
Of the 2004 birth year players, Jimmy Mancuso, who is the long-time, Sault Ste. Marie-based scout for the reigning OHL champion Guelph Storm, said four players in particular from the Jr. Greyhounds have stood out to him thus far.
Mancuso told Hockey News North that, right now, defensemen Connor Toms and Mason Chitaroni are the most likely of the Jr. Greyhounds to be picked the highest at the 2020 OHL priority selections draft.
After Toms and Chitaroni, Mancuso also mentioned league scoring leader and speedy forward Devin Mauro, as well as goalie Noah Metivier.
“There are a few other kids from here who could become draft picks as well,” Mancuso relayed.
Toms has seven goals, eight assists, 15 points in 23 regular season games from his defense post for the Jr. Greyhounds thus far this season while fellow defender Chitaroni has 4-6-10 offensive totals in 23 outings.
Meanwhile, Mauro tops the loop in scoring with 15 goals, 22 assists, 37 points in 23 games while Metivier has a goals against average of 2.95 in 996 minutes of action.
Following Mauro on the Soo scoring chart are Ethan Esposito with 14 goals, 16 assists, 30 points, Michael Chaffay with 18-8-26 totals, Gavin Ritacco with 10-12-22 numbers and Dylan Forsyth rounding out the top five Jr. Gredyhound scorers with nine goals, 11 assists, 20 points.
Mauro, Esposito, Chaffay, Ritacco and Forsyth are all forwards.
TEAM GREAT NORTH
Four members of the Jr. Greyhounds made notable appearances for Team Great North, which participated at the recent 2019 CCM Midget AAA Hockey Challenge that was held in Saguenay, Quebec.
Team Great North, representing the Great North Midget Hockey League and the Northern Ontario Hockey Association, was eliminated in the quarter-finals of the playoffs via a 3-2 overtime loss to Lac-St.-Louis.
“We came up just a bit short,” relayed Jamie Henderson of the Soo, who served as one of the coaches for Team Great North. “But overall, we showed well in the tournament. We were one of the better teams, that is for sure.”
Michael Chaffay of the Jr. Greyhounds scored once and was player of the game for Team Great North in the playoff match.
Team Great North went 3-0 in the preliminary round of the 14th annual event, which featured 24 teams, mostly from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.
In the opener, Team Great North defeated a Quebec midget all-star squad 3-2 in a shootout. Devin Mauro of the Soo tied the game late in the third period and his Jr. Greyhounds teammate Ethan Esposito netted the shootout winner.
In Game 2, Team Great North cuffed a prep school all-star team from Quebec 7-4.
Team Great North then clinched its division title by routing a club from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia by an 11-0 margin. Forward Ty Zachary of the Jr. Greyhounds netted a goal and two assists while Mauro also scored.
“Our kids played really well and they contributed in every game. It was a really experience for not only the Soo kids but for every player who represented Team Great North,” summed up Henderson.
PHOTO: Dylan Forsyth of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds. (Photo by Mary Desimone.)