As the winds of change and gusts of winter blow through the Canadian International Hockey League, it is weathering the storm with assistance from friends in Michigan…Parity is being personified in the North American Hockey League…Here and there and around the rinks.
There’s an old saying that less is sometimes more.
That could well apply to the new Canadian International Hockey League which recently waved good-bye to a faction of malcontents and will proceed with four — perhaps five — teams for the remainder of the 2014-2015 season.
Those who are on board as part of the revamped CIHL as of this writing are the Batchewana Attack, Espanola Rivermen, Sudbury Royals and the Michigan-based Kalkaska Rhinos.
Formerly an independent team in its first season of operation and owned and coached by former National Hockey League enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa, Kalkaska officially joined the CIHL earlier this month.
The 41-year old, Polish-born Oliwa played 442 games in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup as a member of the New Jersey Devils. He said he wants to be a part of the CIHL “moving forward.
“I believe in the vision of the CIHL and the good people who are involved,” added Oliwa.
Meanwhile, Dan Vasquez, who is the coach-general manager of the Detroit Fighting Irish of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League, has confirmed that his team will partner with the CIHL for tournaments and other games this 2014-2015 season.
For starters, Vasquez said the Fighting Irish will take part in a CIHL showcase tournament that is slated for January 8-10 in Kalkaska. In turn, CIHL teams plan to head to Detroit in February to participate in a showcase that the Fighting Irish will play host to.
Vasquez said the Fighting Irish, which currently holds down third place in the MWJHL with a record of 10-6-1, also intends to “head north” to play select games with CIHL teams “over the course of the rest of the season.
“We are all in as a partner with the CIHL,” said Vasquez, whose Fighting Irish team is one of the MWJHL’s flagship franchises. “We want to promote and showcase our players as much as possible. Playing teams from the CIHL will give our players even more exposure.”
In its third season of operation, the Fighting Irish franchise has moved no less than 15 players to the American Collegiate Hockey Association and Division 3, National Collegiate Athletic Association levels.
The four-division, 24-team North American Hockey League is showing considerable balance this 2014-2015 season.
In the North Division, the first-place Janesville Jets have a two-point lead over the second-seeded Soo Eagles.
Then it gets even closer among the four other teams in the North where just three points separates the Springfield Jr. Blues, Michigan Warriors, Johnstown Tomahawks and Keystone Ice Miners.
In the five-team Midwest Division, the defending NAHL champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs lead the way with 32 points. Then just three points stands between the Minnesota Wilderness, Minnesota Magicians, Coulee Region Chill and Kenai River Brown Bears.
Over to the five-team Central Division, just three points separates the first-place Austin Bruins, second-place Minot Minotauros and third-place Aberdeen Wings, who are coached by Sault Ste. Marie native Francis Anzalone, who is the son of former Lake Superior State University Lakers national championship coach Frank Anzalone.
And in the eight-team South Division. just two points separates the second-place Wichita Falls Wildcats, third-place Lone Star Brahmas and fourth-place Corpus Christi IceRays.
With 27 points from a record of 13-10-1 in the NAHL North, second-place Soo plays host to Johnstown this weekend in Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (4:30 p.m.) matches at Pullar Stadium.
Eagles marketing director John Bosbous said the Sunday afternoon game has been moved to 4:30 to allow National Football League fans of the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers to watch their teams play 1 p.m. matches on television.
Three Eagles have 20 or more points thus far this season.
Nick Belger leads the Soo scoring parade with 7-14-21 totals followed by Sandis Zolmanis at 6-15-21 and Keegan Miller at 9-11-20.
Trevor Cope leads the Eagles in goals with 11 followed by Miller and Chase Matson, who both have 9.
Soo Thunderbirds head into weekend play on the road and in first place in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League with a record of 17-2-2.
Four Thunderbirds have 20 points or more thus far — Nic Tassone is 15-20-35, Jaren Bellini is 14-12-26, Nic Sicoly is 12-13-25 and Joey Miller is 7-13-20.
Rookie goalie Mario Culina has stood out for the Birds with a 9-2 record, .930 save percentage and 2.11 goals against average.