It will be a cross-border, home and home exhibition set of games between the Soo Indians of the USA Under 18 Tier 1 Hockey Federation League and the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League.
Games between the Twin Soo teams are slated for this Saturday at 4 p.m. at Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at John Rhodes Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
The U18 Indians have the advantage of having already played five games this season while the Jr. Greyhounds have yet to see any action. The Indians began their 2023-2024 schedule two weekends ago with a pair of victories over the Green Bay Bobcats. They then lost two of three games at this past weekend’s Michigan Amateur Hockey Association Showcase Tournament that was held in Detroit.
Meanwhile, only three holdovers from the 2022-2023 U18 Jr. Greyhounds are with the ’23-24 team — defenseman Samuel Gravel and forwards Griffen Albert and Lucas DiBerardino. In addition to Gravel, Albert and DiBerardino, the Jr. Greyhounds signed three other locals who played in the Great North with the Sudbury Nickel Capitals in ’22-23 — goalies A.J. Borrelli and Nick Marson and forward Coulson Bell.
Bell won’t be available to the Jr. Greyhounds for the upcoming games against the Indians as he is currently on the injured list with a broken finger. He is scheduled for a further x-ray of the finger on September 27 to determine when he might be ready for game action, Hockey News North has confirmed.
To be sure, the Jr. Greyhounds, who finished atop the Great North regular season standings in ’22-23 only to be upset by the North Bay Trappers in the championship game of the playoff tournament, are a program in transition with a new staff led by head coach Sean Gagnon.
“It is a daunting task for sure,” relayed the 50-year old Gagnon, who played the game at the highest level in a career that included being a steady defenseman with the 1993 Memorial Cup champion Soo Greyhounds. “But we have been holding off season workouts and a lot of our guys are in the gym working out five days a week. We do need some of our players to get stronger in order to be able to handle the grind and the pace and the physicality of the (upcoming season.)”
Besides the six players with Great North U18 HL experience, newcomers who have committed to the Jr. Greyhounds for the ’23-24 season are a collection of forwards and defensemen that (alphabetically) include Jacob Briffett, Sammy Caruso, Sebastian dos Reis, Nathan Dupuis, Espen Escasa, Kadin Johnston, Cameron Kontulainen, Wyatt Leblanc, Danny Macdonald, Brady Real, Stosh Schultz, Liam Watson and Cole Wreggitt. Schultz hails from the Petoskey, Michigan area.
Well before the off season hiring of Gagnon as the new head coach of the Jr. Greyhounds, four local lads who suited up for the Great North team in ’22-23 opted to exit the program to sign with the U18 Indians. The players in question are goalie Nathan Maguire, defenseman Tyler Neveau and forwards Deven Jones McDonald and Carter Huckson. All four players have 2007 birth dates — and two of them were chosen at the 2023 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft, namely Maguire by the Flint Firebirds and Jones McDonald by the Oshawa.
The Indians also signed Huckson’s younger brother, defenseman Colton Huckson, who has a 2008 birth date.