I have more than a few things on my mind today.
My hockey mind, that is.
And if you are so inclined, I invite you to read on for a few rambles, rattles and rumours.
LAKER SHAKERS: I am not a general manager, a coach or a scout.
But I have been watching hockey as a paid sportswriter and sportscaster for more than 38 years and I think I know if a certain player is capable of performing at a higher level. And even if I didn’t, I know enough credible hockey people who would tell me if a certain player has what it takes to move up.
Ergo, in this instance, let it be said that 1995 birth-year defenceman Michael Caruso of the Soo Eagles of the North American Hockey League and 1994 birth-year forward Anthony Miller of the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League both possess the on-ice ability and academic requirements to play at the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association level.
If I can put a bug in the ears of Lake Superior State Lakers head coach Jim Roque and his assistants Tim Christian and Doug Laprade, it would be to seal some sort of deal with Caruso and Miller. There is a lot to gain and little to lose.
NO AVERAGE JOE: He’s a former high-percentage winning head coach with the erstwhile Soo Indians of the North American Hockey League.
A former goalie at Lake Superior State, he returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach when the Indians departed the NAHL in 2005.
Now an assistant with the Lakers Division 1, NCAA rivals, the Northern Michigan Wildcats, Joe Shawhan is a head coach-in waiting. While he may have security as an assistant at Northern Michigan, Shawhan is an exceptional head coach and it says here that an NCAA school or NAHL team should make this guy an offer he can’t refuse.
Shawhan knows how to recruit, he knows how to win and he knows how to coach.
RANKIN FILE: It was made to house a Jr. A hockey team, literally.
Formerly the home of the Soo Thunderbirds when they were a part of the erstwhile International Jr. B Hockey League about 35 years ago, Rankin Arena could well house a junior team again in 2014-2015.
If the Thunderbirds are going to stick around as members of the NOJHL — or any other junior league for that matter — they need to get out of cavernous Essar Centre and move into the Rankin, which offers atmosphere and the right size with seating for about 500.
The Thunderbirds played a game at the Rankin earlier this season and by all accounts from owner Albert Giommi to general manager Kevin Cain to coach Jordan Smith to multiple fans who I talked to, the atmosphere was perfect for Jr. A hockey.
Playing in a city that is also home to the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, the Thunderbirds are always going to be the second draw. The know that — and that’s fine.
But better to play in front of 300-350 fans at the 500-seat Rankin instead of playing in front of 300-350 fans at the 4,500-seat Essar Centre.
NORTH WINDS: What does the future hold for the NOJHL?
I am not the only one asking that question.
The NOJHL is at the crossroads in North Bay where the Trappers have been advised by the City of North Bay to look elsewhere for accomodations next season.
The Trappers played home games in nearby Mattawa on Sunday and Monday, drawing announced crowds of 303 and 287 to the Mike Rodden Arena and Community Centre.
To be sure, the Trappers appear headed out of North Bay. Is Mattawa the destination?
Then there is the fact that a Timmins businessman is looking to buy an existing NOJHL team with the hopes of relocating it. Does he again go after the debt-ridden Abitibi Eskimos of nearby Iroquois Falls or does he make a pitch to buy North Bay or the Soo?
And what about Blind River?
Attendance is down, way down in Beavertown.
A few years back, the Beavers were drawing an average of 300 fans to the Blind River Community Centre. Heck, I was at more than one Beavers game that drew crowds of close to 500.
But with an average attendance of just over 200 this season and the alienation of some long-time fans, the last-place Beavers have fallen on tough times in Blind River, both on and off the ice.
As for Elliot Lake, the NOJHL has already voted to allow the Bobcats to move to Cochrane for the 2014-2015 season and is awaiting Northern Ontario Hockey Association approval.