Five tried and tested junior hockey skaters — defensemen Chase Muswagon, Jackson Jacques and Ethan Mercer and forwards Ethan Novello and Mason Wesley — are among the notables who have signed up for the Sault College Cougars ‘Spring Skate’ that is slated for June 3-4.
Under the direction of new head coach Tanner Burton and his staff of assistants as well as head scout and recruiter Charly Murray, the Spring Skate has attracted the interest of more than 50 players. The list includes returnees from the 2022-2023 edition of the Cougars as well as recruits who have been pinpointed by Murray and a number of walk-ons.
As for the above mentioned five skaters, all of them have the potential to be difference makers for the Sault College men.
• Chase Muswagon. The 22-year old Muswagon was a top recruit by aforementioned Cougars head scout Charly 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 the program. But after playing in four games and potting three points to begin the 2022-2023 season, Muswagon suffered a severe concussion and eventually left school to return home to The Pas, Manitoba to recuperate. As for Muswagon’s intentions for the Cougars and Sault College for the 2023-2024 campaign, he didn’t try to hide his enthusiasm, telling Hockey News North that he “can’t wait to be back in the Sault.” Muswagon added that he is “feeling really good” and has been medically cleared to return to hockey.
• Jackson Jacques. A right-hand shooting defender, the 21-year old Jacques has had a splendid two full seasons of junior hockey. He spent the 2021-2022 season in the SIJHL with Dryden and, playoffs included, the 5-foot-11, 195 pound Jacques produced five goals, 33 assists, 38 points in 61 games with the Ice Dogs. Jacques, who hails from Griswold, Manitoba, then began the 2022-2023 season with Dryden and had five assists in six games before opting to leave the Ice Dogs so he could play with his younger brother, Jeremiah, for the Peguis Juniors of the Manitoba-based Keystone Jr. Hockey League. And it was a monster season for Jacques with Peguis as he totaled 16 goals, 42 assists, 58 points in just 34 games.
• Ethan Mercer. Hailing from Griswold, Ontario, the 20-year old Mercer is fresh from two very good seasons with the Elliot Lake Red Wings of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. Showing his offensive skills from the back end, the 6 foot, 190 pound Mercer put up nine goals, 47 assists, 56 points in 90 games spanning two seasons in Elliot Lake.
• Ethan Novello. Known for his work ethic and team first attitude, the 6-foot-1, 165 pound Novello is a Sault Ste. Marie product who, prior to joining the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL in 2020, skated for the local high school hockey champion St. Mary’s Knights. The soon to be 20-year old Novello had a career regular season with the Thunderbirds this 2022-2023 campaign with 13 goals, 12 assists, 25 points in 55 games. In 49 games with the Thunderbirds spread out over two seasons prior to this one, Novello had one goal, nine assists, 10 points. Thus, his improvement in the points department from previous seasons to this one is rather noticeable.
• Mason Wesley. Having converted from defense to forward, the rugged hombre from Constance Lake First Nation in northeastern Ontario has solid size at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds. A 20-year old, Wesley suited up for the Thunder Bay North Stars of the SIJHL this season after having previously played in the NOJHL with the Hearst Lumberjacks. Wesley is known for his physical style of play.
Meanwhile, besides incoming recruits for the 2023-2024 season, the Cougars can return a number of players including the explosive first line of captain Caleb Wood, Gregory Trudeau-Paquet and Ethan Esposito, who are all in position to return to Sault College in the fall.
Wood led the Cougar men in scoring during the 2022-2023 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. Of note, Wood and Trudeau-Paquet are both former standout players from the NOJHL. And Wood and Esposito are both Sault Ste. Marie products.
The 2023-2024 season looms as a fresh start for the Cougars, who overcame a slow beginning to the 2022-2023 campaign by finishing with an overall record of 13-12-1 among American Collegiate Hockey Association competition. Sault College has a new head coach in the recently-hired Tanner Burton, who is anxious to get going ahead of the 2023-2024 season beginning with the June 3-4 Spring Skate at the new Northern Community Centre in the city’s west end.
Burton takes the helm of the Cougars from Mike Hall, who earlier this off season retired as the head coach of Sault College’s Division 2, ACHA men’s program. Hall, who had been with the Cougars since their debut ACHA season of 2018-2019, had recommended Burton as his successor.
Burton, in turn, lauded Hall as a mentor to his staff and players.
“I learned so much from Mike,” Burton relayed. “And I will never forget his words to me after I told him that I got the job (as head coach of the Cougars.) He told me that if I ever leave the program for whatever reason to make sure that I leave it in better shape than I found it.”
The 34-year old Burton, who was Hall’s much 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, Burton was a steady, overachieving defenceman through two seasons in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League 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.
Prior to being an assistant coach with the ACHA Cougars and the U18 Jr. Greyhounds, Burton served as the head coach for the ACHA men’s hockey team at Wisconsin-based Concordia University while pursuing his Masters of Business Administration degree.