A closed international border prevented the Soo Eagles from competing within the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League this season.
But the Michigan-based Eagles — the only American team in the 12-member NOJHL — still found a way to play a number of games over the past several months.
And Doug Laprade, who is the third-year coach of the Eagles, credits veteran general manager Bruno Bragagnolo for the number of games the team was able to get in.
Laprade, a former national championship player and assistant coach with the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association Lake Superior State Lakers, told Hockey News North that the “tireless efforts” of Bragagnolo resulted in the Eagles playing 17 games this season against a variety of opponents, including development, junior and college teams from a number of states, including Michigan.
“Bruno was absolutely great,” Laprade said of Bragaganolo, who has been with the Eagles since 2010 and, besides being the GM, is also the team’s president, part owner and chief cook and bottle washer — and one of the best junior A hockey operators in North America.
“It would have been easy to pack it in as a team because of COVID-19 and the border closure but with Bruno leading the way, we made it work,” Laprade pointed out.
Besides playing in the 17 games, the Eagles were able to practice at their home facility, Pullar Stadium, two hours a day, four times a week, for a good portion of the season.
“We made the best we could out of a trying situation … we made good use of our practice time and getting 17 games in helped turn a negative into a positive,” Laprade noted.
With the COVID-19 affected season now out of the way, Laprade is looking forward to the 2021-2022 campaign when it is hoped that the world will be more normal and that the international border at Sault Ste. Marie will be open to travel.
“We managed to get through this season and our hope now is for a full and safe return to the NOJHL for next season,” said Laprade. “This was a challenging season and I certainly want to acknowledge all of our players who stuck it out. They handled it really well.”
The Eagles finished the season with 20 players and Laprade noted that the majority could return for the 2021-2022 campaign.
“We only had four 20 year olds and after conducting our exit interviews, just about every other player besides the graduates gave us a commitment to return for next season,” Laprade confirmed. “Hopefully the border situation will allow us to return to regular season play in the NOJHL for 2021-2022. We will have a good group of kids ready to compete.”