It has been an inverted, up and down and back again season for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League. A major exodus in players from 2022-2023 to 2023-2024 also included the Sault Major Hockey Association moving on from last year’s bench and management crew.
Then, not long after the start of the ’23-24 season came more topsy turvy when first year head coach Sean Gagnon was indefinitely suspended by the Northern Ontario Hockey Association pending an investigation into anonymous complaints. Ergo, a complete overhaul to the coach and management staff followed led by Denny Lambert and Trevor Zachary.
In addition to Lambert and Zachary, the Jr. Greyhounds staff also now includes assistant coaches Jeremy Stevenson, Keegan Stevenson and Ty Zachary and with added support from goalie coach Ryan Cook, trainer Dr. Kevin Caruso and equipment manager Louie Cuglietta.
Having moved forward — and with the stability of the current staff leading the Jr. Greyhounds as an inexperienced team as an ongoing work in progress — the Soo squad is now on a break from league play until the new year, specifically the January 6-7 weekend.
A record of 5-10-2 has the Jr. Greyhounds in sixth place among the seven teams of the Great North. On a more positive side, the Jr. Greyhounds will take a two game winning streak into the new year and despite the 5-10-2 record, they have been mostly competitive, especially when considering their goals for and against averages. In the 17 regular season games to date, the Jr. Greyhounds are fairly even with 53 goals scored and 56 allowed.
The balance of the scoring attack has also been encouraging.
Coulson Bell leads the Jr. Greyhounds in scoring with seven goals. And right behind Bell on the goal scoring chart are Danny MacDonald with six and fellow forwards Sammy Caruso, Seb Dos Reis, Lucas DiBerardino and Espen Escasa all with five tallies apiece. MacDonald, Caruso, Dos Reis and Escasa are all in their first year in the Great North.
Between the pipes, A.J. Borrelli has a 2.58 goals against average in 604 minutes of action while Nick Marson has a 3.66 GAA in 393 minutes of play.
Back to the staff which came together five games into the season, there is comfort and familiarity with the people involved.
Lambert, the Zacharys and the Stevensons all have a prior association as coaches, managers and players with previous ownership groups of the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. In fact, a few years back when local businessman Darren Smyl owned the Thunderbirds, Trevor Zachary was the general manager, Lambert was the head coach and Jeremy Stevenson was an assistant.
Notably, there are varying forms of highest and high level experience among the group.
Hailing from Wawa, Ontario and currently a First Nations police constable in the Sault Ste. Marie area, Lambert has had a long and stored association with the game of hockey.
Never drafted into the Ontario Hockey League or the National Hockey League, Lambert nonetheless made it to both levels as a relentless forward with a never quit attitude.
A hard nosed, rugged left winger during his playing days, Lambert skated for the Soo Greyhounds from 1988 to 1991 and posted 65 goals, 83 assists, 148 points over three full seasons in the OHL. Then, regular season and playoffs included, Lambert played in more than 500 NHL games with four different teams.
Following his playing career, Lambert coached the Greyhounds for parts of eight OHL seasons, including three as the head coach. As an assistant with the OHL Hounds, Lambert learned the coaching side of the game from world class bench boss Craig Hartsburg. Lambert has since coached the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL and has the added experience as the northern scout for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL.
Over to Jeremy Stevenson, his hockey playing career ended a dozen years ago at age 34. But now, at 49 years of age and at his playing size and weight of 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Stevenson still looks fit and trim enough to be patrolling the left wing.
A first round pick of the Cornwall Royals in 1990 who would finish his OHL career with the Soo Greyhounds, Stevenson defied the odds to play in 228 NHL games after being an 11th round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 1994. Now working in law enforcement in Sault Ste. Marie, Stevenson would play in 228 NHL games, playoffs included, and total 43 points from 19 goals, 24 assists while racking up 471 minutes in penalties as a fibrous, physical, fearless forward.
Stevenson’s OHL career was also noteworthy, going from being a first round pick by Cornwall from the Elliot Lake midgets in 1990 to being traded to the Soo during the 1993-1994 campaign and scoring 18 goals, 19 assists, 37 points in 48 regular season games while piling up 183 minutes in penalties for head coach Ted Nolan’s Greyhounds.
Meanwhile, his son, Keegan Stevenson, is now working alongside his dad at the young age of 22 — he turns 23 later this month — after a notable playing career as an effective forward that had him move up from the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL to the Guelph Storm of the OHL to Acadia University.
At age 21, Ty Zachary’s hockey resume includes time spent as a hard working forward with the NOJHL Thunderbirds and the Sault College Cougars of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
As for Trevor Zachary, he was the GM for the NOJHL’s Soo Thunderbirds for four successful years beginning in 2017.
There is a lot of hockey left to be played for the U18 Jr. Greyhounds in the 2024 segment of this season. There is the regular season slate, the league championship playoff tournament as well as provincial play downs that are slated for Sault Ste. Marie.
And when play resumes in the new year, one might bet on the Jr. Greyhounds continuing on the modest upswing from the 2023 portion of this season.