Today’s tour of the mill begins on the Ontario Hockey League coaching circuit and shifts to state-of-the-franchise talk within the North American Hockey League, Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Canadian International Hockey League.
Having already fired head coach Paul Fixter last month and replaced him with associate David Matsos on an interim basis, the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves may be looking to clean house in 2014-2015.
If Matsos does not carry on as head coach beyond this season, there will be no shortage of qualified candidates applying for the Wolves job.
One name that is often mentioned as a candidate whenever a head-coaching position becomes available in the OHL is Belleville Bulls assistant Jake Grimes.
The 42-year old Grimes, who spent his three-year OHL playing career in Belleville, is now in his 11th season as an assistant coach with the Bulls. Of note, he applied for the Sudbury head-coaching job a year ago but was passed over in favour of the since-fired Fixter.
Another name that has been linked to the Wolves — either as a head coach or top assistant — is Moe Mantha, who is currently the coach-general manager of the NAHL’s Michigan Warriors.
The 54-year old Mantha has taken the Flint-based Warriors to the NAHL’s championship tournament in two of the four seasons of the team’s existence.
But with the Warriors franchise for sale — and being replaced in Flint effective the 2014-2015 season by the relocated OHL Plymouth Whalers franchise — Mantha will be a coaching free agent.
To be sure, Mantha has strong OHL ties, having played for the erstwhile Toronto Marlboros and later coached the Saginaw Spirit and Windsor Spitfires in between more than 650 games as a National Hockey League defenceman.
He is also no stranger to northern Ontario, having grown up and played minor hockey in Sturgeon Falls.
Regarded as a strong development coach with an honest, old-school personality, Mantha also has minor-pro coaching experience in the American Hockey League.
ON THE MOVE?
* The Keystone Ice Miners could be one and done in the NAHL.
Having relocated to Connellsville, Pennsylvania from Port Huron, Michigan during the off-season, the Ice Miners are currently being operated by the NAHL after owner Maribeth Hayes voluntarily surrendered the franchise to the league in December.
The Ice Miners are near the bottom of the attendance rung in the 24-team NAHL, are for sale and rumoured to be headed out of Connellsville after just one season.
A possible destination for the Ice Miners could be a return to Jamestown, N.Y. where the Ironmen had an NAHL team for two seasons before going dormant. But under new, local ownership, Jamestown is now home to a team in the North American 3 Hockey League called the Southern Tier Xpress. The Xpress leads the 31-team NA3HL with an average attendance of more than 1,000 per game.
* Abitibi Eskimos of the NOJHL are said to be leaving Iroquois Falls at the end of this 2014-2015 season and moving to nearby Timmins effective the 2015-2016 campaign.
A move from small-town Iroquois Falls to medium-market Timmins has been talked about for a number of years now.
Should the NOJHL move from Iroquois Falls to Timmins, long-time coach Paul Gagne will likely be part of the transfer. A former first-round pick to both the OHL and the NHL, the 53-year old Gagne is an Iroquois Falls native who resides in Timmins.
It’s been a tough baptism of fire for the new CIHL and founder and president Tim Clayden readily takes the blame for what has ailed the first-year junior league.
After starting out with eight teams, the CIHL is down to two but Clayden said the league will “definitely” return in 2015-2016.
“Mistakes have been made and I take full responsibility,” Clayden said evenly.
The 54-year old Clayden, who has been involved in junior hockey as an owner, manager and coach for most of his adult life, said he will be satisfied with a “five-or-six-team league” in 2015-2016.
According to Clayden, the CIHL will have a northern Ontario presence that includes the Batchewana Attack, Espanola Rivermen and a new entry in Sudbury as well as teams in northern Michigan.
Clayden said he is hopeful that the CIHL will play regular interlocking games with teams from the Midwest Jr. Hockey League in 2015-2016.
At present, the MWJHL is made up of six Michigan-based teams and one from Illinois.
Teams from the Great Lakes State are the Soo Firehawks, Traverse City Hounds, Alpena Flyers, Detroit Fighting Irish, Motor City Monarchs and Michigan Ice Dogs. The Decatur Blaze is based in Illinois.
Scott Gardiner, a former OHL scoring star with the Belleville Bulls, serves as commissioner of the MWJHL. The 50-year old Gardiner has confirmed that he has had “numerous informal talks” with Clayden about an interlocking schedule with the CIHL in 2015-2016.
Of note, the MWJHL’s Fighting Irish is hosting a showcase tournament this weekend that includes Motor City as well as Batchewana and Espanola of the CIHL and the independent Kalkaska Rhinos.