Soo Eagles have already scored three times on their arch-rival Soo Thunderbirds and the 2018-2019 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League season has yet to begin.
As Hockey News North was first to report on Sunday, the Michigan-based Eagles swooped in and signed three top major midget graduates from the back yard of the cross-border, Ontario-based Thunderbirds.
Scoring a hat trick, veteran Eagles general manager Bruno Bragagnolo inked 2000 birth-year forwards Caleb Wood, Raf Praysner and Owen Shier to NOJHL playing cards.
Wood, Praysner and Shier finished second, third and fourth, respectively, on the scoring chart of the Soo Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League during the 2017-2018 regular season.
Wood totaled 18 goals, 10 assists, 28 points in 36 regular season games with the Greyhound major midgets. Right behind Wood were Praysner with 9-17-26 totals in 32 games and Shier with 8-18-26 numbers in 36 outings.
Quite clearly, the signing of the three forwards from Soo, Ontario ranks as a big win for the Eagles at the expense of the rival Thunderbirds.
“All three boys will bring a combination of speed, skill and grit to our program,” Bragagnolo told Hockey News North. “To be able to sign three really good players from Soo, Ontario is a real boost for us.
“We have been scouting all three players for a couple of years now,” Bragagnolo added. “They are all good all-around players who compete hard and have shown that they can put the puck in the net.”
The fact that all three high-end players have opted to cross the International Bridge to play for the Eagles in 2018-2019 is also a public relations victory for the Michigan Soo squad, which finished second in the NOJHL in attendance in 2017-2018 with a per-game average of 615 fans.
By contrast, the Thunderbirds averaged just 177 fans per game in 2017-2018, which was the lowest attendance in the 12-team NOJHL.
Meanwhile, in separate interviews with Hockey News North, Wood, Praysner and Shier clearly stated that signing with the Eagles was their first choice over opportunities they had to play for other junior A level teams.
“I have heard a lot about what a great organization the Soo Eagles are,” said Wood. “After skating with them I decided they were the team that I wanted to play for.”
Praysner said after meeting Bragagnolo and new Eagles head coach Doug Laprade that “it just felt right to sign with them. I love the staff and (Pullar Stadium) is a great facility.”
And Shier said the decision to sign with the Eagles was an easy one.
“I have been around the Eagles organization through family members and friends since I was a little kid,” Shier noted. “I grew up to respect the organization, so when I got the chance to sign with them, it was an easy choice for me.”
Shier is a grandson of former Eagles assistant coach Dennis Bolton and a stepson of current Eagles strength and conditioning coach Michael Barbeau.
PHOTO: Left to right, Raf Praysner, Caleb Wood and Owen Shier.