There are two good sides to varsity hockey at Sault College. As there is men’s hockey, so too are there women who play the game they love.
On the men’s side, the Cougars are already planning ahead for the 2023-2024 season. As for the lady Cougars, they are headed to the Division 2, American Collegiate Hockey Association’s national championship tournament as the no. 1 ranked team.
The 2022-2023 season recently ended for the Cougars with a narrow 4-3 loss to the Michigan State Spartans in the ACHA regional playoffs. After a sluggish start to the season, the Sault College men finished with an overall record of 13-12-1.
Head scout and recruiter Charly Murray is now clearly focused on the ’23-24 campaign with a June 3-4 Spring Skate weekend that is open to all players interested in attending Sault College and playing for the Cougars next season. (Any player interested in taking part in the June 3-4 Spring Skate can contact Murray via 705-206-2051.)
One player who is already committed to the June 3-4 Spring Skate is prize defenseman Chase Muswagon. The 22-year old Muswagon was a top recruit by Murray from the Dryden Ice Dogs of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League to attend Sault College last fall and enrol in the Fish and Wildlife Conservation program. But after playing in four games and potting three points to begin the ’22-23 season, Muswagon suffered a severe concussion and eventually left school to return home to The Pas, Manitoba to recuperate.
Muswagon has since been declared healthy and he told Hockey News North that he has already signed up for the Spring Skate and that he plans to return to Sault College in the fall to resume school and hockey.
As for Murray, who personally recruited the majority of the players on the ’22-23 Cougars squad, he has a book on players in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League who are potential recruits for ’23-24. And he has old friend Don Smith up in Thunder Bay scouting the Superior International Jr. Hockey League for potential recruits.
“The goal is get us back to championship contender status,” Murray told Hockey News North. “We won the championship at the D3 level (in 2018-2019) and now our aim is to be among the very best in D2.”
To be sure, Murray sees the ’22-23 edition of the Cougars as a building block towards the ’23-24 term and beyond with so many current student athletes having considerable eligibility remaining. In fact, the Cougars explosive first line of captain Caleb Wood, Gregory Trudeau-Paquet and Ethan Esposito are all in position to return to Sault College in the fall.
Wood led the Cougar men in scoring this season with 29 goals, 22 assists, 51 points in 25. games. Right behind Wood were Trudeau-Paquet with 18 goals, 32 assists, 50 points and Esposito with 16 goals, 26 assists, 42 points. Wood and Trudeau-Paquet are both former standout players from the NOJHL.
Wood, to be sure, is the epitome of a student athlete.
After he graduates from the Business Administration program this year — he currently carries a 3.50 grade point average — Wood said he plans on returning to Sault College again in the fall to begin the Sports Administration program. A well spoken, mature young man, Wood said he would recommend Sault College to any good player looking to combine a good hockey program at a school that is renowned as a top community college with a wide variety of academic and career options.
Looking ahead, there will be a new head coach in place when the Sault College men take to the ice next season. The opening was created when Mike Hall recently confirmed his retirement as the Cougars bench boss.
After a few years away from the game, Hall took over as the men’s head coach at Sault College and in the 2018-2019 season — which was the school’s first venture into the ranks of the Division 3, American Collegiate Hockey Association — he piloted the Cougars to a stunning national championship. The program has since moved up to the Division 2 level of the ACHA.
He has a long association with the game in Sault Ste. Marie.
Hall started with the vaunted Soo Legion program in 1983 at the age of 18. He began as the trainer, moved up to assistant manager, then assistant coach before finally becoming head coach in 1993. As the illustrious Soo Legion became the equally renowned Soo North Stars, Hall stayed on as head coach of the esteemed Great North Under 18 Hockey League program for 20 years before retiring at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season.
In a 12-year span to conclude his run with the Soo Legion/Soo North Stars, Hall was behind the bench as head coach for 10 Great North playoff championships as well as two gold, one silver, and two bronze medals at the All Ontario provincial play downs. And during a spectacular five-year period that put an exclamation point on his stay with the North Stars, the team rang up up a rousing record of 156-9-9 in 174 games.
As for Hall’s time with Sault College, the school’s manager of athletics Paul Orazietti shared his thoughts.
“It is hard to adequately put into words what Mike Hall has meant to our men’s hockey program, the athletics department and ultimately Sault College itself,” Orazietti began. “Through Mike and his staff’s passion, dedication and hard work, he built not only a highly respected Cougars program but put Sault College hockey on the map as one of the best programs in the ACHA.”
Meantime, a logical — and popular — candidate to take over from the 57-year old Hall as the new head coach of the Sault College men is 34-year old Tanner Burton. Burton, who was Hall’s well-respected assistant coach this past season after a year on the bench with the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, had an impressive playing career.
Hailing from Echo Bay, just outside the Sault, Burton was a steady, overachieving defenseman through two seasons in the NOJHL with the Blind River Beavers. He then played at the Division 3, National Collegiate Athletic Association level for the Marian University Sabres, spending four years at the Wisconsin school and graduating with a degree in Accounting and Finance. Not done as a player, Burton played several seasons in the Southern Professional Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League before heading overseas to finish his playing career in the Alps Hockey League. He has since put his degree from Marian to good use, working in the accounting office for Sal-Dan Developments in the Sault.
The Sault College women recently claimed the ACHA’s Central Region playoff championship to improve their overall record for this season to an astounding 26-0-0. And as previously noted, they are now off to the ACHA national championships, which are slated for March 16 to 21 in Boston.
“The (regional championship) win feels great, and we are super proud of what we’ve accomplished so far this season, but our goal hasn’t changed,” said team captain Olivia Barsanti. “We won’t be satisfied until we come home with a national title. We are feeling confident as we are getting closer to our trip to Boston but know that we still have work to do to finish the job.”
Over the course of the season, Marie-Pier Lecours led the lady Cougars in scoring with 18 goals, 34 assists, 52 points. Then came Emma Lee with 24 goals, 25 assists, 49 points, Jasmine Grouleau with 23 goals, 25 assists, 48 points, Brooke Brazeau with 20 goals, 24 assists, 44 points, Olivia Barsanti with 18 goals, 13 assists, 31 points and defenseman Meagan Daley with 15 goals, 15 assists, 30 points.
Cassidy Dobson and Emily Hansen have shared the goaltending duties for the Sault College women this season.
Brianne Shunock is the head coach of the Sault College women. Assistant coaches are Bronson Kovacs, Shannon Bolduc and Megan Dubas. Bill Vanderleest is the goalie coach.