Great North coaches corner
May 20, 2023
Sean Gagnon is in fine fellowship in the Great North Under 18 Hockey League as the new head coach of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds.
Along with his trusted sidekick, general manager Darrin Thomsen, the 49-year old Gagnon represents a welcomed change in leadership and direction for the Jr. Greyhounds, who sprinted to a first-place regular season finish in 2022-2023 only to be upset in stunning fashion by the North Bay U18 Trappers in the Great North playoff championship game that was held in the Soo.
Gagnon, who was a hard rock Ontario Hockey League defenseman for three seasons and a member of the 1993 Memorial Cup champion Soo Greyhounds before going on to a lengthy pro career that included time in the National Hockey League league, returns to high level coaching with the Jr. Greyhounds. He previously coached with achievement as both an assistant coach and head coach with the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
At any rate, Gagnon will now be part of an upright and above board head coaching crew in the Great North which includes the reputable, presentable likes of Guy Blanchard of the U18 Trappers, Brian Dickinson of the Sudbury U18 Nickel Capitals and Steve Polyblank of the Timmins Majors.
The 63-year old Blanchard, who has been a mainstay in the Trapper AAA program and one of its driving forces for a long time, will be assisted by Vitali Yachmenev, who is a former scoring sensation from the glory days of the erstwhile North Bay Centennials of the Ontario Hockey League. The no-nonsense Blanchard is considered to be one of the top teaching and development coaches in AAA Northern Ontario Hockey Association circles.
In Sudbury, Dickinson will again be assisted by the holdover bench duo of Marc Tardif and Clayton Bertrand, with Fred St. Onge returning as the general manager. Dickinson and his associates have a good reputation as respectful individuals who don’t make the game about themselves.
And up in Timmins, the 58-year old Polyblank — one of the true good guys in the game — returns for his second season as head coach of the Majors after several prior years at the helm of the New Liskeard Cubs and the erstwhile Kirkland Lake Legion 87s of the Great North. Meanwhile, 22-year old Austin Holmes, a former Majors forward who went on to play in both the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Central Canada Hockey League, will return as an assistant under Polyblank. And general manager Ron Holmes is once again on board as a linchpin and pillar of the Majors program.
As of now — subject to change — the GNU18HL is positioned to again be an eight-team league for the 2023-2024 season.