For the Motor City Hawks of the United States Premier Hockey League, change has been the operative word for the upcoming, 2015-2016 season.
The Hawks, who played in 2014-2015 as the expansion Motor City Monarchs of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League, started their season last October with only 12 players and a whole host of unknowns.
Jump forward later in the season and the upstart Monarchs found themselves leap-frogging a host of more established teams to find themselves in the MWJHL finals against defending champion Traverse City.
Though losing in a tough set against the Hounds on their home ice, the Monarchs were the talk of the league in many corners, including HockeyNewsNorth.com.
Jump ahead just a few months later and the erstwhile Monarchs have a new affiliation (Michigan Ice Hawks Youth Hockey), a new name (Motor City Hawks), a new league (USPHL), new hockey umbrella (USA Hockey vs. AAU) and a new rink to play their games at — McCann Arena in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan.
But with new surroundings, a new league, and a new name on their jerseys, the Hawks will begin the 2015-2016 season infinitely stronger than their inaugural year as the Monarchs.
For one, MWJHL coach-of-the-year Jason McCrimmon returns behind the bench adding an ownership stake along with his friend and general manager Mark Gilman — and becomes the first African American coach/owner in the USPHL.
“We learned an awful lot last year with the Monarchs and there will be some administrative things we’ll do differently this year,” said Gilman. “One thing that won’t change however is our dedication to development and giving McCrimmon the players and tools he needs to continue to succeed.”
Unlike the inaugural 2014-2015 MWJHL season where the Monarchs were fighting the stigma of playing in a league with an unknown reputation and in an affiliation with the AAU, the Hawks will not be concerned this year about filling a roster as a member of the well-known and respected USPHL’s Midwest Division (where the MWJHL merged with the former Minnesota Jr. Hockey League) under the USA Hockey banner.
Though they will be graduating MWJHL leading scorer Adam Jonak (Indiana Tech) and possibly losing the league’s top defenceman Jarrad Vroman — who appears headed to a higher level of hockey — as well as the departure of goalie Tyler Skulley (college undecided), the Hawks in 2015-2016 will start the season with a core of returning players and a wave of new imports that McCrimmon is already assuring is a better team than last season’s surprise Monarchs squad.
“We have a strong group of veteran kids returning, which actually is what our development formula is all about,” said McCrimmon.
“We were the youngest team in the league last year, meaning we have a bunch of returning players with a year of junior hockey under their belts after moving a number of our players last year to colleges and higher levels of Juniors. Add that to the overwhelming response we’ve received in our tryout skates so far, and we’ve got a great roster of kids ready to push us to the next level in the USPHL,” added McCrimmon.
Leading the returning Hawks will be the MWJHL rookie-of-the-year and second-leading scorer Trevor Pode, captain Joseph Gibbs, one of the best swing players in the league last season, top-10 scorer Bryce Peplinski, defenceman Alec Domin, forward Justin Session and goalie Stephan Demmers, who as a 15-year old, surprised the league with his late-season play.
Imports will also grace the Hawks roster, including U.S. players from as far as California who will join 17 year old Latvian defenceman Renars Slisans to give the team a decidedly new look. Unlike last pre-season as a junior hockey question mark, the Hawks expect to have a full roster heading into USPHL play in September.
The new home rink for the team was necessitated by an overcrowding situation at the team’s former home in Fraser, where the Hawks will continue to practice, but will host their home games at University Liggett’s McCann Arena in Grosse Pointe Woods.
“McCann is a premier facility and through Myke Nevin of the Michigan Ice Hawks organization and arena GM, Richard Lorant, who was excited to have a junior team playing at his facility, we are thrilled with our new home ice,” said Gilman.
The Hawks will continue to host pre-season skates at Fraser Hockeyland on Wednesday nights to find the final pieces to add to their squad heading into the 2015-16 USPHL season.
For more information, interested players should contact head coach Jason McCrimmon at firstname.lastname@example.org.