Today’s tour takes us from one side of the International Bridge to the other as we check in on the Soo Eagles of the North American Hockey League and Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
CATT GIVES EAGLES A LIFT
It didn’t take Chad Catt long to pay dividends for the Soo Eagles.
Catt, a 1994 birth-year goalie who was acquired by the Eagles from the Aberdeen Wings at the February 6 North American Hockey League trade deadline, backstopped the Soo to back-to-back wins in his first two starts.
Catt, who hails from Williamston, Michigan, stopped 48 of 53 shots as the visiting Eagles swept the Johnstown Tomahawks on the weekend.
Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo said the arrival of Catt “has definitely given us a spark. He practices hard and he plays hard. He has given us a lift with both his play and his attitude.”
Bill Vanderleest, the Eagles crusty old goalie coach, got a chance to watch Catt in Johnstown on the weekend.
“We had him at practice for a week after the trade and not much changes with Chad from practice to the games. He has an unbelievable work ethic and he is as focused a goalie as I have ever worked with,” praised Vanderleest. “He is cool under pressure and he showed that in Johnstown on the weekend.”
Catt is slated to guest with me tonight on the Soo Eagles Hockey Show, which airs from 5-6 p.m. on radio station ESPN 1400.
EAGLES SWOOP INTO THIRD
The weekend sweep for the Eagles puts them in sole possession of third place in the hotly-contested North Division of the NAHL, just two points back of second-place Keystone Ice Miners and just three points ahead of fourth-place Johnstown.
The Eagles are home to hard-nosed coach Moe Mantha and his surging Michigan Warriors for games this Friday (7:30) and Saturday (7:00) at Pullar Stadium.
The Warriors have won four straight games — all by one goal — to move to within three points of Johnstown for the fourth-and-final playoff spot in the NAHL North.
As for the Eagles, with a record of 24-21-1, they have 14 games left in the regular season.
Of note, spunky forward Mitch Vanderburg, who scored twice in the weekend sweep of Johnstown, now has a team-leading 19 goals.
BIRDS PERCHED ATOP NOJHL
What you see is what the Soo Thunderbirds will be moving forward.
The Thunderbirds will proceed with their current 22-man roster down the stretch of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular season and into the playoffs.
The 52-game regular season for the Thunderbirds ends on March 7 with the playoffs to follow.
Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain had hoped to add a veteran defenceman at the Canadian junior hockey roster freeze deadline on February 10 but nothing materialized.
“It would have been nice to have used our last roster spot on another defenceman and we had a specific player in mind but it just did not work out,” said Cain.
Still, the Thunderbirds got some welcome news recently when second-year defenceman Owen Headrick returned to the team after missing 39 games following shoulder surgery.
“That was a nice bonus, getting Owen back,” said Cain. “As you know, when healthy, he is one of the best defencemen in the league.”
To be sure, getting Headrick back after being out for 39 games is tantamount to acquiring an impact player without giving up anything in return, Cain noted.
A 1997 birth-year defender from Garden River First Nation, Headrick has a future commitment to play at the Division 1, Western Collegiate Hockey Association level with the Lake Superior State University Lakers.
The T-Birds, by virtue of a 5-0 win over the visiting Sudbury Nickel Barons on Monday, now sit atop the NOJHL’s overall standings with 72 points, which is two more than the second-seeded Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
Giving chase to the Soo and KL are the expansion Elliot Lake Wildcats, who have 67 points.
PHOTO: Mitch Vanderburg (left) of the Soo Eagles, in action against the Johnstown Tomahawks, who wore special St. Valentine’s Day uniforms on Saturday. Vanderburg had two goals in the Soo’s weekend sweep of Johnstown. (Photo by Thomas Slusser.)