I am not going to dwell on the recent head scratching, mind boggling, and downright maddening decisions made by the brain trust at Algoma Public Health as to which local hockey groups and teams can only practice while others that APH refers to as “elite” teams are allowed to continue to play.
Instead, APH and its wisdom aside, I thought I would stick handle around the rinks and check in on a number of teams and leagues relative to the good, old north.
• I am a big fan of the hockey program at Sault College. Those who are involved as coaches and managers of the men’s and women’s teams at our local community college have done a good job in making a good name for Cougars hockey over the past few years.
And while I applaud the Cougar teams for taking the initiative to be a part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, I wish they would find a way to also play games against similar caliber teams in Ontario.
Now, I realize that the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association doesn’t have a hockey program. But as innovative as the folks at Sault College are — from athletics director Paul Orazietti on down to the hockey personnel of the men’s and women’s teams — perhaps they could be the forerunners in forming some sort of play within Ontario.
Like, perhaps encourage the good folks at Algoma University to start men’s and women’s hockey teams. And while they are it, maybe prod those who are in charge of athletics at the community colleges in Barrie, North Bay, Sudbury and Thunder Bay to do the same. And while they are it, suggest the same to Sudbury’s Laurentian University to at least return hockey at the club team level.
I note that the Sault College women recently played a series of home exhibition games against a senior A team from Thunder Bay. Perhaps there are other similar teams of potential out there that the Sault College men and women can possibly face off against?
Over the past few years, Sault College has really made a name for its hockey program even while dealing with COVID-19. Coming up with a community college/small university league in northern Ontario might be something else for the folks at Sault College to pursue, even if only on an exhibition basis to start.
• The Twin Soo powers of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League are in good cross-river shape relative to the standings.
Soo Thunderbirds are in first place in the West Division of the NOJHL with 34 points from a record of 15-4-4. The Michigan based Soo Eagles are next with 29 points from a record of 14-4-1 and have four games in hand on the Thunderbirds. And of note, the Eagles have a better winning percentage than the Thunderbirds — .763 to .739.
Both the Thunderbirds and Eagles have good history of being well run junior A hockey programs and they are carrying on that tradition again this season.
The Thunderbirds have a 20-plus years NOJHL history of being operated by good men such as Sam Biasucci, Pat Egan, Al Jones and Darren Smyl. And now with Trevor Daley and Cole Jarrett overseeing the operation, the Thunderbirds have remained in good hands.
As for the Eagles, co-owner, president, general manager and assistant coach Bruno Bragagnolo is one of the very best junior A hockey operators in these parts. Well past the age of 60, Bragagnolo is as hard working and tireless an individual as I have met in the decades that I have been covering junior hockey.
• They are one of my favourite small market junior A hockey teams. I mean, how can one not be a fan of the Blind River Beavers of the NOJHL?
Superbly coached and managed by sixth year hockey boss Kyle Brick — he who hails from the even smaller town of Thessalon — the Beavers continue to be a splendid example of success against all odds.
The most improved team on the West side since the start of the season and currently in third place with a record of 13-8-2, the Brick-led Beavers rarely give an inch. And as good of a coach that Brick is, he is also a highly regarded general manager.
While Brick recruits players from all over Canada, he also has a penchant for getting kids from the north — with goalie Gavin Disano, a Sault Ste. Marie product, being an example.