Hounds of the Great North

May 15, 2023

Some dreams have been realized. Some prayers have been answered. Some wrongs of the past have been righted. No less than 15 newcomers have been offered spots on the 2023-2024 edition of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League in what is a fresh, clean start for the program.

Under the close watch of new head coach Sean Gagnon, his hand-picked general manager Darrin Thomsen and other evaluators, the 15 newcomers were chosen from more than 50 hopefuls in what was a gruelling three day tryout audition at the new Northern Community Centre.

In total, 17 players — including two holdovers from the 2022-2023 team that finished first in the Great North during the regular season only to lose in shocking fashion to the North Bay U18 Trappers in the championship game of the playoff tournament — were chosen to be a part of the Red and White assembly for the 2023-2024 Great North campaign. Three spots remain open for Gagnon and his staff to fill with other potential returnees from last season or with those who just missed out on making the cut from the tryout.

The two returnees from the ’22-23 campaign who are on board for the ’23-24 season are 2007 birth year forwards Lucas DiBerardino and Griffen Albert. Regular season and playoffs included, DiBerardino had 11 goals, five assists, 16 points in 33 games for the U18 Jr. Greyhounds in ’22-23 while Albert totalled four goals, nine assists, 13 points in 30 outings.

Meanwhile, three other local lads who had to venture to Sudbury from home to play in the Great North last season were all selected this time around by the U18 Jr. Greyhounds. They are 2006 birth year goalie A.J. Borrelli, 2007 birth year goalie Nick Marson and 2007 birth year forward Coulson Bell.

Borrelli tended twine for the U18 Nickel Capitals last season while Marson and Bell both suited up for the U16 Nickel Capitals. All three were honour roll performers for their respective Sudbury teams this past season. And all three were called upon by teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League as affiliate players — Bell and Marson by the Espanola Paper Kings and Borrelli by the Blind River Beavers.

Coulson Bell

Looking ahead and to be sure, Borrelli and Marson should form a top 1-2 goalie tandem for the Soo in ’23-24 while Bell brings a peppery package of grit, grind and gun-slinger ability to the forward lines. 

In the interval, of the newcomers from the local Sault Major Hockey Association ranks, a number of players in the various age categories stood out at the recent tryout camp including 2006 birth year forward Sebastian dos Reis, 2007 birth year forward Sammy Caruso, 2008 birth year forwards Danny Macdonald and Nathan Dupuis and 2008 birth year defensemen Brady Real, Liam Watson and Cole Wreggitt. In particular, dos Reis gave the impression that he could be an offensive force to be reckoned with in the Great North.

At any rate, selecting the players from the huge throng of hopefuls who attended the recent U18 Jr. Greyhounds tryout camp was no easy task for aforementioned head coach Sean Gagnon and his staff.

“There were a lot of tough decisions that had to be made,” Gagnon relayed to Hockey News North. “A lot of the young kids are still growing and maturing. I like the skill set of a lot of the kids but this is a big jump (from Under 15 AAA, Under 16 AA and Under 18 AA) to this (Under 18 AAA) level.”

The 49-year old Gagnon represents a never give up example for his players to follow. Gagnon, who was a defenseman on the 1993 Memorial Cup champion Soo Greyhounds, made it to the Ontario Hockey League the hard way. Gagnon, who played three seasons with the Greyhounds, Ottawa 67’s and Sudbury, was a 16th round pick — and as an 18-year old no less — by the Wolves at the 1991 OHL priority selections draft. Gagnon further overachieved to the extent that he went on to play in the National Hockey League as part of a lengthy pro career.

Without question, Gagnon made it as a player through sheer will, determination and toughness.

And as a bonus, Gagnon’s coaching background includes prior success as both an assistant and the head guy with the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. He may rub some people the wrong way. But who doesn’t? He may not be for the faint of heart and there is no perfect coach out there. But it is hard not to like Gagnon’s passion for the game and the up front way in which he does business.

This is a U18 Jr. Greyhounds program that is clearly in transition. A number of 2007 and 2008 birth year players have already opted to leave town to pursue other opportunities for the next season. But knowing Gagnon and what he is all about, he will form the ’23-24 edition of the Jr. Greyhounds into what will be a tough team to play against in the Great North loop. He will be demanding but up close and fair.

Following is a list of the 17 players who have commitments to play in the Great North for the U18 Jr. Greyhounds for the ’23-24 season.

GOALIES: A.J. Borrelli and Nick Marson.

SKATERS: Griffen Albert, Coulson Bell, Jacob Briffett, Sammy Caruso, Lucas DiBerardino, Sebastian dos Reis, Nathan Dupuis, Espen Escasa, Kadin Johnston, Cameron Kontulainen, Wyatt Leblanc, Danny Macdonald, Brady Real, Liam Watson and Cole Wreggitt.

New head coach Sean Gagnon (middle) of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League spent the past weekend evaluating prospects for the upcoming 2023-2024 season. Assisting Gagnon at the tryout camp were his trusted associates Pat Carricato (left) and Darrin Thomsen. (photo by Bob Davies)

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