Summer in the hockey towns

July 18, 2023

Officially, in a given year, the average hockey season runs from September to May. Unofficially, it never really ends. Following is a choice selection of notable junior, college and under 18 hockey happenings — as they relate to the north region — thus far this off season.

SUDBURY TO SAULT COLLEGE: New head coach Tanner Burton and the Sault College Cougars added a huge presence to their lineup ahead of the 2023-2024 American Collegiate Hockey Association men’s season. Cole Crowder, a hulking 6-foot-5, 220 pound forward, is headed to Sault College from the Sudbury Cubs of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

Crowder, who has a 2002 birth date, racked up 24 goals, 29 assists, 53 points and 119 minutes in penalties in 51 games for Sudbury during the 2022-2023 NOJHL regular season. He then closed out his junior hockey career with seven points in 10 playoff games for Sudbury.

SAULT COLLEGE BROTHERS: And there will be a brother act among the brotherhood of players on the ’23-24 edition of the Sault College varsity men’s team. Following the first up commitment of 21-year old defenseman Jackson Jacques, 19-year old forward Jeremiah Jacques will line up with his older brother at Sault College this coming season.

Jackson, a smooth skating, free wheeling, right-hand shooting defender, is fresh from a splendid two full seasons of junior hockey performance. He spent the 2021-2022 season in the Superior International Jr. Hockey League with the Dryden Ice Dogs and, playoffs included, the 5-foot-11, 195 pound Jacques produced five goals, 33 assists, 38 points in 61 games. 

The brothers, who hail from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in Griswold, Manitoba, both began the ’22-23 season in the SIJHL with Dryden. Jackson had five assists in six games before opting to leave the Ice Dogs with Jeremiah for the Peguis Juniors of the Manitoba-based Keystone Jr. Hockey League. And both lit it up with Peguis. 

Jackson totalled 16 goals, 42 assists, 58 points in 34 games from his defense post. Meanwhile, Jeremiah, who had a goal and an assist in four games with Dryden, became a feared forward of force with 29 goals, 25 assists, 54 points in 32 outings for Peguis.

Both were recruits of Sault College head scout Charly Murray.

EAGLES OFF TO SCHOOL: Play for the Soo Eagles of the NOJHL and there is a pretty good chance you will move on to the school level.

The most recent Eagle to commit to attend school in the fall is defenceman Colin Handy, who is forgoing his final season of junior hockey eligibility to begin his collegiate career. Handy, who has a 2003 birth date, is headed to Marian University in Wisconsin effective the coming season. Marian is a Division 3, National Collegiate Athletic Association school.

The recent school commitment by Handy makes it eight Eagles from the 2022-2023 team that will play college hockey in 2023-2024. The others are forwards Jack Mortson, Zack Briskey, Hunter Friesen, Michael Szlag and Chase Tallaire, defenceman Isaiah Gagerman and goalie Logan Raffaele. All have 2002 birth dates.

At the top of the 2002 birth year list is Mortson, who led the Eagles in scoring during the ’22-’23 season with 32 goals, 35 assists, 67 points. He is headed to UMass Boston, which is a Division 3, NCAA level program.

Meanwhile, Briskey is headed to Northland College, which is also an NCAA D3 school, Friesen has committed to the University of Dubuque, which is another NCAA D3 program, while Szlag is off to Western New England, which is also home to an NCAA D3 school. Gagerman, meanwhile, is off to Indiana Tech of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, Raffaele has committed to Lake Superior State’s ACHA program and the high scoring, high-end character kid Tallaire is moving on to Grand Valley State of the ACHA.

GOALIE COACHES: Sault Ste. Marie resident Bill Vanderleest is taking his goalie instructor skills a few hours down the highway. The ageless Vanderleest is the the new goalie coach for the Espanola Paper Kings of the NOJHL.

Vanderleest, who will also remain in his position as the goalie coach for the Sault College Cougars varsity women’s hockey team, is no stranger to the NOJHL. He has spent the past decade as the goalie coach for the NOJHL’s Soo Eagles.

Meanwhile, replacing Vanderleest as the Eagles goalie coach is youngster Noah Zeppa. Not yet 21 years old, Zeppa is fresh from a rather exceptional goalie career in the NOJHL with the Soo Thunderbirds.

BEAVERS OF THE AREA: Blind River Beavers of the NOJHL have signed three area newcomers ahead of the ’23-24 season. They are forwards Jacob Beemer, Piper Post and Brendan Cooke. 

Beemer, who is a local Blind River product, skated for the Great North Under 18 Hockey League champion North Bay Trappers in 2022-2023.

Post, who hails from Bruce Mines, played in the unsanctioned Greater Metro Hockey League last season. Before that, he played in the Great North U18HL for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds.

Cooke, who is from Thessalon, starred for the Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North U18HL in ’22-23. He was subsequently picked by the Flint Firebirds in the eighth round of this year’s Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.

UP IN IROQUOIS FALLS: There is a Storm brewing in Iroquois Falls. The transferred Cochrane Crunch of the NOJHL has been renamed as the Iroquois Falls Storm. The towns are separated by about 30 miles along Highway 11. Previously, Iroquois Falls was home to the Abitibi Eskimos from 1999 to 2015. The franchise then relocated as the Timmins Rock.

RED WINGS TO VIKINGS: The NOJHL’s Elliot Lake Red Wings have been rebranded as the Elliot Lake Vikings following the recent transfer of operation from Paul Noad to local resident Jef Jarmovitch. Jarmovitch, who has been an assistant coach with Elliot Lake over the past two seasons, was a goalie for his hometown NOJHL team from 1994 to 1996 when it was known as the Vikings.

GREAT NORTH TO OHL: A pool of players from the Great North Under 18 Hockey League were plucked at the 2023 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft. 

• Forward Hudson Chitaroni of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds was picked by the Sudbury Wolves in the third round. Chitaroni led the first place U18 Jr. Greyhounds in scoring during the 2022-2023 regular season and finished second in the Great North with 48 points, including 22 goals, in 28 league games. The 5-foot-10, 170 pound Chitaroni then lit it up with six goals, eight assists, 14 points in five playoff games for the Jr. Greyhounds, who lost to the North Bay U18 Trappers in the Great North championship game.

• Sudbury Under 16 Nickel Capitals defenseman Alexandre Valade was taken by the Mississauga Steelheads in the fourth round. The rugged defender had four goals, nine assists, 13 points in 24 regular season games as team captain for the U16 Nickel Capitals in ’22-23.

• Goalie Nathan Maguire of the Jr. Greyhounds was selected by the Flint Firebirds in the seventh round. Playing on a first-place Jr. Hounds team in ’22-23, Maguire had a 1.69 goals against average and four shutouts on a powerhouse Soo squad that did not permit many shots on goal.

• Hard working, good sized winger Cole Dubowsky of the Nickel Capitals was taken by the Barrie Colts in the seventh round. He netted 12 goals, 14 assists, 26 points in 27 regular season games for the U16 Nickel Capitals in ’22-23. 

• Declan Gallivan, a 6-foot-1 defender, was taken by the North Bay Battalion in the seventh round. Gallivan had nine goals, 16 assists, 25 points in 28 regular season games for the Jr. Greyhounds in ’22-23 and then added five points in five playoff outings.

• High scoring forward Brendan Cooke of the Jr. Greyhounds was taken by the Flint Firebirds in the eighth round. Cooke connected for 19 goals, 18 assists, 37 points in 28 regular season games for the Jr. Greyhounds before exploding for nine goals, six assists, 15 points in five playoff outings.

• A 6-foot-1, 180 pound forward, Deven Jones McDonald was picked by the Oshawa Generals in the 11th round. Regular season and playoffs included for the Jr. Greyhounds in ’22-23, Jones McDonald had 16 goals, 15 assists, 31 points.

• Pint sized forward Max Campbell of the Sudbury Under 16 Nickel Capitals was nabbed by the Erie Otters in the 12th round. He had 13 goals, 16 assists, 29 points in 28 games for the Nickel Capitals in ’22-23.

• Smart, steady. medium size defenseman Candon O’Neill of the Jr. Greyhounds was chosen by the Saginaw Spirit in the 12th round. Regular season and playoffs included for the Jr. Greyhounds in ’22-23, O’Neill had four goals, 30 assists, 34 points in 33 games.

• Good size defenseman Rylan Fellinger of the Jr. Greyhounds was picked by the Flint Firebirds in the 13th round. Regular season and playoffs included for the Jr. Greyhounds, Fellinger found range for two goals, 18 assists, 20 points in 31 games.

• A 6-foot-1 defenseman, Cole Ellis of the Timmins Majors was taken by the Kingston Frontenacs in the 15th round. Regular season and playoffs included for Timmins in ’22-23, the Chapleau native netted seven goals, eight assists, 15 points in 31 games.

SEAN AND PAT: Sean Gagnon is adding an accomplished, seasoned hand to the bench of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League in the person of assistant coach Pat Carricato.

Gagnon, who earlier this off season was named as the new head coach of the U18 Hounds, has a prior coaching alliance with Carricato. It was several years ago when Carricato was the high achieving head coach of the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL and Gagnon was his top assistant. The two worked well together. 

Carricato has deep coaching roots in the Twin Saults. Besides coaching in the NOJHL with the Thunderbirds from 2005 to 2010, he also manned the bench for the U18 AAA Soo Indians of the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association from 2013 to 2015 and again from 2019 to 2022. 

Carricato is a son of legendary Sault Ste. Marie hockey coach Abbie Carricato.

U18 HOUNDS AND INDIANS: A cross-border under-18 hockey rivalry is in position to be rekindled for the 2023-2024 season. Personnel from the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League and the Soo Indians of the USA Under 18 Tier 1 Hockey Federation League are upbeat and eager to face off in a series of exhibition matches over the course of the ’23-24 campaign.

“It just makes sense,” incoming head coach Sean Gagnon of the Jr. Greyhounds relayed to Hockey News North. “It is a natural rivalry. It makes absolutely no sense that the teams haven’t played each other for a while.”

Meanwhile, Indians general manager Mike Kaunisto told Hockey News North that “we are all for this. When Jimmy Capy was coaching (the Jr. Greyhounds) a few years back we had a great series of games with them. When Jimmy left we wanted to keep having the games between the two teams. Every year after (Capy left) we asked the Jr. Greyhounds if they wanted to play us and for whatever reason, they refused.”

Both Gagnon and Kaunisto noted that when their respective regular season schedules are set for the ’23-24 campaign, they will compare open dates and try to finalize a home and home series of four to six games. 

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