Eagles set to Pullar together
October 17, 2021
To be sure, the Michigan Soo Eagles of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League are looking forward to the early part of November when the United States will once again allow non essential travel from Canada.
With Canada-United States border closures relative to the COVID-19 pandemic causing them to sit out the the 2020-2021 season from league play, the Eagles are back in the NOJHL — but are still waiting to return to venerable Pullar Stadium for home games.
All 10 of their contests to date have been played on the road, where the Eagles have a record of 7-2-1 and are in a first place tie with the Soo Thunderbirds in the West Division of the NOJHL.
Even with the splendid start, just the fact that they are back playing games again has been vital to the Eagles, who boast one of the best run franchises at the junior A hockey level led by president and general manager Bruno Bragagnolo.
“I think it was paramount to do whatever it took to get through this season in the NOJHL,” relayed Bragagnolo. “We knew that if we went dormant (for a second straight season) it would be very difficult to get up and running again next year for a number of reasons.”
The backing of the NOJHL and its fellow member clubs in assisting in the Eagles return is not lost on Bragagnolo.
“We are very appreciative of our league members and our commissioner, Robert Mazzuca, for their support and encouragement to help us get through this year. Most important though, we figured we owed it to our players, fans and sponsors, who committed and put their faith in our program this year.”
For head coach Doug Laprade, the veteran Eagles bench boss is happy with his team’s start, especially having played their first 10 games on the road.
“I am very pleased,” stated Laprade. “With all these away games, I think it has helped us come together as a team being on the bus, in hotels and on the road to start the season.”
Even with the return to play, traveling across the Canadian border to compete brings its own set of complications.
“It has not been easy playing all away games so far this year,” said Bragagnolo. “One of our obstacles has been to make sure everyone gets COVID tested on time to get across the border.”
Receiving some assistance from the Ontario side of the Twin Soo border has also benefited the Eagles, said Bragagnolo.
“The travel has been a little difficult, but we are getting used to it. We are lucky to have had some help from our Canadian friends for our home games at the Rankin Arena (in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) All in all, we won’t complain as we are just happy to be playing league games again.”
While getting his team back on the ice competing at a strong level was a key factor for Bragagnolo, doing so safely was equally as vital a component to it all and was another area of concentration for the Eagles.
“Besides trying to put a good team on the ice, obviously first and foremost is the safety of our players and staff to avoid getting COVID in our return to play. Secondly, it has been a challenge on managing our budget for the year,” Bragagnolo pointed out.
As for his players, coach Laprade has been more than satisfied with their contributions to date.
Up front, forwards Chase Tallaire and Jack Morston are at the top of the Eagles scoring perch.
“Chase and Jack have been outstanding for us so far this season,” relayed Laprade. “They are both captains of our team and lead on and off the ice. They work very hard in practice and bring the level of competition up for our entire team.”
Notably, Tallaire a 2002 birth year skater, who hails from St. Ignace — which is a mere 50 miles south of the Michigan Soo and just north of the Mackinac Bridge — is off to a torrid start and is averaging a goal a game thus far this season.
Tallaire, who starred with the under-18 Michigan Soo Indians prior to moving up to the NOJHL with the Eagles, comes by his goal scoring ability naturally.
The youngster’s dad, Sean Tallaire, played four seasons of Division 1 hockey with the Lake Superior State University Lakers from 1992 to 1996 and scored 102 goals in 169 games while being part of national championship teams.
The elder Tallaire, who is originally from Steinbach, Manitoba, went on to a lengthy pro career after his spectacular collegiate gig at LSSU, including several years overseas.
Meanwhile, a pair of newcomers on the Eagles blue line, Nicholas Castillo and Dylan Bachalo, have also paid dividends for the Michigan Soo thus far this season.
“Nic has become a very physical force for us. He skates well, moves the puck and can play very effectively at both ends of the ice,” relayed Laprade.
Laprade, a Thunder Bay product who is a graduate of Lake Superior State University and a Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic championship winner with the Lakers as both player and assistant coach, is also pleased with what Bacholo has shown to date.
“Dylan is one of the smarter players I have coached in some time,” Laprade noted. “He skates very well, moves the puck well, and definitely is an asset for us on the blue line.”
A pair of veteran goaltenders have also led the Eagles to their 7-2-1 start to the season and Laprade recognizes the importance of getting good goal keeping from Gabe Rosek and Ryan Gilmore.
“Our goal tending has been great so far. It is very important for any team to get a good goal tending, especially on the road. You can have all the offense in the world, but if your goaltender isn’t there for you it is pretty hard to win games. These guys have been there for us,” Laprade emphasized.
With the just announced plan for the border to re-open for Canadians to begin traveling by land into the U.S. in November, optimism for the Eagles to resume playing at Pullar Stadium is being looked upon with hopeful positivity.
“It will be really nice to get back to playing home games again at the Pullar again for a number of reasons,” detailed Bragagnolo. “Fans, sponsors and our players will all be excited to get back to playing in one of the greatest arenas in the country and obviously it will help balance our budget for the year.”
Laprade echoed those sentiments.
“We are really looking forward to hosting home games at the Pullar Stadium and seeing what we can do on our home turf. We’re hoping to be able to build on the start we’ve had and hopefully add to it.”
While they wait for that opportunity, Laprade looks to make the most of the contests away from home ice.
“Again, I think the road games have really helped with our team chemistry. When you’re on the road, you’re just with the team. There’s no family or distractions of any kind around, just team building and team work.
“So far we have played everyone in our division and I am very happy with how we stack up against each team. Each of our opponents have various strengths and have been great competition,” concluded Laprade.