Another day in hockey paradise

August 5, 2014

Officially, Sault Ste. Marie is unofficially Hockeytown, at least to us Twin Soo residents who have ice in our veins.

Our status as Hockeytown comes from the fact that the Twin Soo market is home to no less than five teams in five different junior leagues and a Division 1 collegiate program.

At any rate, the dog has been fed, the morning walk has been completed and the grass has been cut and watered.

Ergo, let’s check in on the six high-level teams within the Twin Soo border.


The big question in Houndtown is who will replace outgoing general manager Kyle Dubas.

Will the Hounds promote from within the organization or will they make a surprise hire like they did in 2011 when they gave the job to a then 25-year old Dubas?

Dubas, who recently departed the Greyhounds to become the assistant general manager with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League, will be asked to endorse his successor.

To be sure, Dubas has left the Greyhounds — who are coming off their best season since 2007-2008 — in good shape with a roster deep in veteran talent.


About to enter their third season in the NAHL after spending 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 as members of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, the ownership of the Eagles has established firm roots in the Michigan Soo.

On the ice in 2014-2015, the Eagles have sights set on returning to the North Division playoffs after being edged out for a post-season spot in 2013-2014 that followed a first-place finish in 2012-2013.

To be sure, the Eagles are well-led by primary owner Ron Lavin and coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo, who also holds a stake in the ownership.

The Eagles, who play out of venerable and recently-upgraded Pullar Stadium, can return a number of high-end skaters in 2014-2015 led by forwards Nick Belger, Sandis Zolmanis, Brad Pung and Chase Matson.


A first-place regular-season finish in 2013-2014 ended with a loss in the finals of the playoffs for the Thunderbirds, who will return hard-edged Jordan Smith as head coach for a second term.

Though the Thunderbirds have lost several top players to graduation and relocation, they expect to return a number of high-end skaters in 2014-2015 led by the likes of forwards Anthony Miller, Nic Tassone and Jaren Bellini.


Playing out of Big Bear Arena in the Michigan Soo, the Firehawks have been a part of the MWJHL since it was established in 2012.

Local resident Joe Esson returns as head coach of the Firehawks, who are members of the nine-team MWJHL.

The Firehawks will be out to build on a 2013-2014 campaign in which they made it to the United Hockey Union’s championship tournament as one of two reps from the MWJHL.


The Soo’s newest junior team will play out of Rankin Arena as part of the new, eight-team, Canadian International Hockey League.

Batchewana will not be short on leadership led by general manager Dennis Bolton and head coach Denny Lambert.

Bolton was part of the NOJHL for six seasons as an associate coach with three different teams.

Lambert is a former OHL and NHL player of considerable tenure who also has eight years of coaching experience with the Soo Greyhounds, including three as the head guy.


Damon Whitten is the new head coach of the Lakers replacing Jim Roque, who was finally given his walking papers after nine mostly-ineffective seasons as bench boss.

Whitten, who came highly-recommended to Lake Superior State by retired Michigan State Spartans head coach Rick Comley, arrived in the Soo in the spring with a promise to re-connect with fans and a pledge to recruit players from area teams, including the NAHL Eagles.

But thus far, Whitten’s recruits have come from the British Columbia Hockey League, which has prompted mumbling and grumbling from long-time Laker supporters.

PHOTO: Former NHL player and OHL player and coach Denny Lambert will return to the junior hockey game in 2014-2015 as coach of the new Batchewana Attack.

What you think about “Another day in hockey paradise”

  1. You are right on with regard to Laker Fans over here bitching n complaining about the new Coach already. Whats with all these Players from the BCHL for crying out loud ? ! ?
    Lakers have a new Coach but it don’t seem that much has changed. Same old Bull Shit just like when Rocque was here !!!

  2. As always good solid info – liked the part on where Whitten is actually recruiting as opposed to where he said he would. But, its still early and he will get a chance to see the talent in the Twin Soo’s. He’d better put a competitive product of the ice or he will lose the Laker faithful in a hurry. As for the Hockeytown thing there is a small town in Northern Minnesota that likes the claim of Hockeytown USA. One of their own won the shootout over Russia in Sochi. Do you know that town Randy? They have had several NHLers and College stars.

  3. It will defintely be a rebuilding time for LSSU. Don’t expect results this year or even next year. Year 3 for Whitten should tell whether he’s a success or bust.

  4. self styled: Would that be Warroad, Minnesota? I’m sure one day that state will win their first Stanley Cup….47 years and counting….but then there’s a province in Canada that’s been waiting that long for their next one as well. LOL.

  5. Brad is right concerning Whitten and the Lakers. It likely will take 3-4 years to see if Whitten will succeed with the Lakers. Now if the Lakers finish much better than expected (based on pre-season WCHA rankings) this coming season or the one thereafter, that may tell us early that Whitten is the right guy for the job. But realistically, it’s going to take 3-4 years for him to have a Lakers team that he and his staff are responsible for recruiting.

    This seasons team is largely guys recruited by Jim Roque and his staff, Four of the new guys were recruited by Roque plus the transfer goalie came to LSSU while Roque was still coach. The four guys Whitten has recruited so far are guys he’s brought in because of his familiarity with the BCHL (as a result of his work at Michigan Tech), and he needed to fill out the roster. He likely didn’t have a lot of scholarship money left to work with after he was hired so some of these guys are probably recruited walk-ons, or at least not getting much scholarship money. Plus these are guys who have committed to the Lakers very late in the recruiting process. Hopefully at least some of them will turn out to be good players. Whitten is probably not familiar yet with most of the more local talent.

    The Lakers only have three Seniors this coming season, so for next season (2015-16), Whitten only has three guys (all forwards) to replace and at least two of those slots are already pretty much set; Gorowsky (recruited by Roque), and Basilico (Whitten’s first recruit for a future Laker team). The third slot may also be set; Gauthier, a local kid and a Roque recruit, may be coming in for the 2015-16 season if he progresses fast enough with the Eagles this coming season, or maybe he won’t come in until 2016-17.

    The reality is that it will be 3-4 years before we have a Lakers team that was recruited primarily by Whitten and his staff. It very well may take that long to judge whether he is likely to be a success as Lakers coach. I think we’re all hoping for quicker success (more wins), but we need to be willing to give Whitten time.

  6. Cookie, there is always the possibility of Globke leaving school early to sign a pro contract if he continues to impress.

    1. Brad, I agree although that may be more likely after his Junior season rather than this coming season. Globke had the luxury of playing on a line with Radke and Campbell his Freshman year and that won’t be the case this season. If he does happen to have another excellent season again his Sophomore year with whoever his line mates will be, then he might think more about turning pro next Spring or Summer, but we’ll have to see. This season might be a better test of how good he is.

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