This was a junior hockey team like no other that I have ever covered on a regular basis. It began with a good fellow of an owner who reminded me of any one of a number of characters from the classic hit television series The Sopranos.
It was back during the 2006-2007 season that, under the ownership of Charlie Perdicaro, a rag tag crew of American born players from six different states banded together against all odds to win the championship in what was then a seven team Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
They were the Michigan-based Soo Indians and they would be a one hit wonder of a franchise that was assembled just before the ’06-07 NOJHL campaign started — and then folded soon after the season ended.
And they were owned for that single season by the aforementioned Charlie Perdicaro, an out of town, out of state rapscallion who clearly loved owning the team — while commuting from East Rockaway, New York for routine visits to the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Ontario.
In many ways, Perdicaro was all about show. He loved to cross the International Bridge into Sault, Canada and fine dine at Arturo Ristorante. He was funny and he was extremely generous — he always picked up the tab and paid with cash — while dressed in trade mark black clothing and wearing his slick black hair in a pony tail.
And while Perdicaro threw money around with those who he liked, he was often frugal with his junior hockey team. He wasn’t fond about paying team bills but he somehow was able to convince those who he owed money to that they would be “taken care of.” (Which was open to debate.)
At any rate, legend had it that Perdicaro was connected to the New Jersey mob. And when I once asked him about that, he laughed and replied: “Yo, brotha, aren’t we all connected?”
Somehow, though, the Soo Indians came together, rallied to finish first that ’06-07 season and then went on to win the NOJHL championship and represent the league at the Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada Jr. Hockey Tournament that was held in Iroquois Falls, Ont.
And to be quite clear and concise, the Indians overcame all odds that ’06-07 season — and they hold a rightful and delightful place in the NOJHL history books as league champions.
In a bit of a reverse, as the 21 players on the Michigan-based Indians were all American, their three coaches were all Canadians who lived and worked on the Ontario side of the International Bridge. Ah yes, the Soo Indians of ’06-07 were quite the outfit led by head coach and general manager Kevin Cain and his assistants, Al DiPasquo and Warren LaVoy.
Cain, DiPasquo and LaVoy all came on board with the Indians midway through that ’06-07 season in what I will say was quite the story. And I was personally involved.
It was on New Year’s Eve of ’06 that Perdicaro, as the owner of the Indians, called me at home and invited my wife and I to dinner at the aforementioned Arturo Ristorante. It was there that Perdicaro informed me that he was going to fire his head coach, Jim Capy, and wanted to know if I could recommend a replacement.
Somewhat taken aback, I asked Perdicaro why he would want to fire Capy, given that the Indians were in first place. “Because,” came Perdicaro’s reply, “I saw him at the rink the other day and he didn’t say hi. He disrespected me.”
Still rather flabbergasted, I recommended Cain to replace Capy. And, as the saying goes, the rest became history.
I covered the Indians for the Sault This Week all season — all the way to the aforementioned Dudley Hewitt Cup playdowns that were held at Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls. A collection of retreads they were, unlikely champions who bested teams of equal and better assembly en route to winning the NOJHL crown.
There were no real stars on that Indians team, though they had two high end goalies who rotated and a third who was almost as good. Brennan Poderzay and Elliott Hogue were the main men in the nets and Jake Rosenthal was the capable third guy who backed up the one-two tandem. And notably, all three went on to tend goal at the Division 3, National Collegiate Athletic Association level.
As for Cain, who went on to win three more NOJHL championships as general manager of the Soo Thunderbirds, he — to this day — has fond memories of that title winning Indians team of ’06-07.
“That was a high maintenance team, that’s for sure,” Cain recalled with a laugh. “Having said that, they were a really tight knit team. I think about them as individuals and as a team a lot and when I do, it’s with a smile on my face.”
As for Perdicaro, the owner?
“Ah, I liked Charlie, I really did,” Cain relayed, with another chuckle. “But it was always something, like related to jerseys that were stolen — and later returned — or hotel rooms that weren’t paid for. But then Charlie would appear with a wad of cash and … well, let’s just leave it at that. Winning the championship was great but I must say I was relieved when the season ended and Charlie eventually folded the team.”
The Indians finished in first place that season with a record of 31-15-2 and after a first round playoff bye, ousted the North Bay Skyhawks and Sudbury Jr. Wolves to win the NOJHL title and earn the right to represent the league at the Dudley Hewitt Cup. At the four team DHC with the host Abitibi Eskimos, the Superior International Jr. Hockey League champion Schreiber Diesels and the Ontario Jr. Hockey League champion Aurora Tigers, the Indians came up just short.
But while the Indians as a franchise departed the Michigan Soo almost as quickly as they arrived, the team and its players remain one for the ages.
From the goaltending trio of Poderzay, Hogue and Rosenthal to defencemen J.D. King, Nick Novak, Austin Brown, Jake Russell, Peter Landem and Sean Reid to forwards Shane Bailey, Sam Yearsley, James Ciotti, Nick Zilka, Justin Maciuk, Chris Cooper, Isaac Viau, Mike Connolly, Joe Larson, Ky Moje, Scott Pulak and Sean Farley to coaches Cain, DiPasquo and LaVoy, the Soo Indians NOJHL championship team is well worthy of a chapter of its own.
Today, the Michigan Soo continues to be represented as an NOJHL franchise. They are well known and well established as the Soo Eagles and they have a championship banner of their own, from their initial 2010-2011 season. And while the old Soo Indians were loosely run — and run out of town — the Eagles are one of the best operated franchises in the NOJHL under the direction of president and general manager Bruno Bragagnolo.
As for the Soo Indians and their legacy … my oh my, what a ride.