To be sure, there is a clear disconnect between the men’s hockey program at Sault College and the local fan base.
It is a link that has been lacking since the Cougars won a national championship in the spring of 2019 as the only Canadian men’s team in the entire American Collegiate Hockey Association.
Since the star-studded, locally-laden Cougars won the Division 3 national title in their first season as members of the ACHA, they have since moved up to the Division 2 level. But in the meantime, the opponent known as the ‘vid has been mainly responsible for Sault College being unable to sustain any sort of momentum or create much of a connect with fans and supporters over the past few years.
Part of the issue has been the international border closure which prevented travel to and from Canada and the United States and basically shut the Cougars down for a couple of years. But those restrictions were eased last fall, yet Sault College failed to play a single home game over the course of the 2021-2022 season.
The Cougars did manage to play 15 regular season games — including four across the St. Mary’s River against the Lake Superior State University Lakers ACHA club team — but not a single one was on home ice as part of posting a winning record of 8-4-3.
One of the reasons for the lack of home activity is, the way the ACHA is set up, teams are responsible for scheduling their own games. For example, it is up to Sault College to convince opposition schools from throughout the United States-based ACHA to come here to play games.
And while Sault College committed to playing those 15 road games against various American schools during the 2021-2022 season, they were unable to follow through on getting a single team to play a single game in Sault, Ontario.
Oh, a few schools did commit prior to the start of last season only to eventually cancel scheduled trips over the border to come here.
If the Cougars are going to have any sort of following among local hockey fans, sponsors and advertisers, they should make damn sure that they have firm commitments from American schools to come this way for the 2022-2023 season. And Sault College manager of hockey operations Mark Hebert should also try to get some Canadian schools here for exhibition games, perhaps northern Ontario programs such as the Nipissing University Lakers of North Bay.
Fair or not, the onus is on Hebert to move beyond Covid and re-establish the Sault College men’s team in the eyes of fans, supporters and media. From this corner, I have tried to do my part in giving the Cougars as much coverage as possible, including recent major stories on Hockey News North that deal with the commitment to Sault College of incoming recruit Pineshish Whiteduck.
Being a hockey writer — not to mention a former Sault College student myself — I would like to be able to regularly feature the Cougars during the season, both in this space and on my weekly Hockey North Show on local radio station Eagle 95.1.
The Cougars have some good people on board as part of their coaching and recruiting staff. I have never once been brushed off by Cougars head scout Charly Murray or head coach Mike Hall when looking to write a story or conduct an interview relative to the Sault College men’s hockey program.
But with the ‘vid now in the rear view mirror, Sault College needs to have a home schedule of multiple games in 2022-2023 for the Cougars to again be properly recognized and supported as a local hockey team.