Sporting a snazzy record of 12-1-0, the Soo Jr. Greyhounds will skate into the holiday break in first place in a Great North Under 18 Hockey League where five of the eight teams are over the .500 mark.
Further proof of their dominance in addition to their 12-1-0 record is the fact that the speedy, skilled Jr. Greyhounds have outscored their opponents by a 72-21 margin in their 13 league games.
Steve Polyblank, who is the head coach of the 8-6-2, third place Timmins Majors, is more than impressed with what the reigning champion Jr. Greyhounds of Sault Ste. Marie have in their lineup.
“It is just my opinion but I think this Soo team is even better than what they had last season,” Polyblank told Hockey News North. “They are skilled and fast. They have a lot of good older and younger players. They are tough to beat and I would say that they are favourites to repeat as league champions.”
Polyblank saw the Jr. Greyhounds up close and personal during a mid November road trip when Timmins made a visit to Sault Ste. Marie for a pair of games. Timmins could not hit the score sheet and lost by 2-0 and 6-0 scores to the Soo.
“We stayed with them in the 2-0 game and we were with them for awhile in the 6-0 game but their speed was a lot for us to try to contain,” Polyblank recalled of the weekend. “They defend well and when you make a mistake against them they capitalize. Again, it is just my opinion but the Soo is the best team in our league again this season.”
The Jr. Greyhounds only loss of the season thus far was a 6-3 home ice defeat to the North Bay Under 18 Trappers on December 4. But the Soo rebounded in a big way by scoring a pair of recent road victories over the U18 Trappers, winning by 6-3 and 2-0 scores.
Blaine Smith, who is the northern scout for the Central Scouting division of the Ontario Hockey League, has seen the Jr. Greyhounds play a number of times this season, including two games in Sault Ste. Marie against the Sudbury U18 Nickel Capitals during the third weekend of November and the two recent road matches in North Bay versus the U18 Trappers.
“They are good … really good,” Smith relayed to Hockey News North. “They have a lot of skilled players both in the 2007 and 2006 age group. Their 2007 age group is particularly impressive. They are a nice team to watch and from what I have seen they are the best U18 team in the Great North right now.”
Of the 20 players on the Jr. Greyhounds roster, no less than 12 of them have 2007 birth dates. The other eight were born in 2006. And to be sure, the 2007 birth year class features several prospects for upcoming OHL consideration.
From some accounts, of the 12 Jr. Greyhound players with 2007 birth dates, projections are that between four and six of them will be picked at the 2023 OHL priority selections draft. The list of potential OHL draft picks from the Soo is led by forwards Hudson Chitaroni, Brendan Cooke and Deven Jones McDonald and defensemen Candon O’Neill, Declan Gallivan and Rylan Fellinger.
Of note, Cooke, who hails from the small town of Thessalon — which is about 50 or so miles east of Sault Ste. Marie just off Highway 17 — is one of the youngest players in the Great North with a December 22, 2007 birth date. Cooke has also seen action in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League this season as a 14-year old affiliate player of the Blind River Beavers.
On a side note, Thessalon, which is a gritty town of about 1,200 residents, is also home to Dylan King, who is an assistant coach with the aforementioned Blind River Beavers of the NOJHL. The 32-year old King was a hard rock OHL defenseman with the Soo Greyhounds from 2007 until 2011. He then went on to play four seasons at the minor pro hockey level.
Okay and at any rate, back to the U18 Jr. Greyhounds, they boast eight players among the top 25 point getters in the Great North. They include league scoring leader Hudson Chitaroni, who has 11 goals, 13 assists, 24 points in 13 games. Following Chitaroni on the Jr. Greyhounds scoring chart are Gabe Palumbo (10-8-18), Cole Cond (7-10-17), Brendan Cooke (9-7-16), Deven Jones McDonald (7-7-14), Callum McAuley (2-11-13), Candon O’Neill (0-12-12) and Jacob Smith (5-17-12.) O’Neill (in action photo above by Bob Davies) is the lone defenseman from among the group.
The Jr. Hounds also showcase the top goalie in the Great North in Sudbury product Maverick Fletcher. Fletcher, who has a 2006 birth date, has a record of 7-0-0 with a microscopic 0.71 goals against average and four shutouts. Fletcher’s goalie mate, Nathan Maguire, has a 5-1-0 record with a 2.43 goals against average.
It is worth noting that when it comes to player selection — and to an extent, the league standings — the Jr. Greyhounds do benefit from being the only bigger market program in the Great North to have just one team. In contrast, both Sudbury and North Bay have two teams apiece in the Great North. Sudbury has the U18 Nickel Capitals and the U16 Nickel Capitals and North Bay has the U18 Trappers and the U16 Trappers. To be sure, the fact that the Soo chooses to have just one team in the Great North is a justified cause for consternation for many local players and their parents.
As for league activity, the Jr. Greyhounds will return to regular season play in early January of the new year. And then, slated to begin on March 16, 2023, the Jr. Greyhounds will get to defend their Great North title on home ice when they play host to the league’s playoff championship tournament. All eight teams of the Great North are scheduled to take part in the championship tournament event.
BELL RINGS FOR SUDBURY
Sault Ste. Marie product Coulson Bell is beginning to hit stride as a Great North rookie with the Sudbury U16 Nickel Capitals. Over his last six games, including the prestigious Waterloo Gold Puck Tournament, the speedy forward with the 2007 birth date has one goal, five assists, six points against top level competition. Bell moved to Sudbury to play hockey this season after being cut by his hometown Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North. As well, the Espanola Paper Kings of the NOJHL are in the process of registering Bell as an affiliate player for the 2023 segment of the season.