As Soo Eagles prepare for their third season as members of the North American Hockey League, coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo continues to try to take advantage of the area talent pool.
Already on the Eagles roster as seasoned skaters are Sault Ste. Marie products Michael Caruso and Denver Pierce.
Caruso is a 1995 birth-year defenceman from the Canadian side of the St. Mary’s River while Pierce, a 1995 birth-year forward, hails from south of the International Bridge.
Anxious to add more locals to the lineup, Bragagnolo has tendered and drafted multiple area players as he plans ahead for the 2014-2015 NAHL season.
I recently chatted with Bragagnolo about the local additions to the Eagles.
Following is a transcript of the interview.
RUSSON: Let’s start with the local products that the Eagles tendered prior to the recent NAHL draft. Who are they, what are their positions and what is their background?
BRAGAGNOLO: We tendered forwards William Gauthier and Chase Gamelin, who played for the Sault High Blue Devils last year. I have watched them closely the last two years and have been very impressed by their play. Will is a great-skating, highly-skilled forward with great vision and has a goal-scorer’s touch. He also has a verbal commitment to the Lake Superior State Lakers. Chase is a big, strong power-forward-type player who also has a nice skill set and has a very strong shot. Both have played well together, there seems to be a good chemistry there. I can see both of them turning into very good NAHL players. We also tendered another Upper Peninsula player from Houghton named Raymond Bryce. He is another big strong forward with a high skill level and scoring ability. All three of these boys are considered to be among some of the top players in the UP. I would like to add that there are several other local players who play for either the Indians major midgets or Sault High or across the river in Soo, Canada who have a chance to play in the NAHL in the next couple of years or sooner.
RUSSON: At the June 3 NAHL Draft the Eagles selected Garden River First Nation defenceman Owen Headrick from the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and forward Cole Lussier from the major midget Soo Indians.
BRAGAGNOLO: Yes, both players are also local boys and we think they also will be strong contributors at the NAHL level or beyond. Owen is a young D-man that we have watched all year playing for the T-Birds. He is a great skater and has outstanding defensive instincts. He is very calm and efficient on the ice for a young player and has some nice offensive ability to go along with a very effective shot that he is able to get to the net consistently from the point. He is an Erie Otters (Ontario Hockey League) draft pick and also has been offered a commitment from LSSU. We think he will be an instant impact player on our blueline. Cole is a local player who played at the forward position for the Soo Indians major midget team. We watched him play a lot this year both in practice and in games. He is also a young player with a bright future ahead of him. We brought him up and played him in a game at the end of the season and he did a good job for us. He is a lanky forward with a very good hockey IQ, very good skill set and also very-responsible defensively.
RUSSON: No question that there is talent aplenty in the Twin Soos but the fact is the Eagles, as members of the NAHL, are restricted in the number of import players you can have.
BRAGAGNOLO: Yes Randy, you are right there is a boat load of young players on both sides of the St. Mary’s River here. Unfortunately right now we are only allowed to have four imports by USA Hockey rules. I hear that there is talk about them changing or amending those rules. I am hoping those rules will change in the next year or two because I could see us fielding a team of 12-15 players from between the Twin Soos. That I think would be something special. The talent is definitely here so we will see what happens but that is one of the goals of our organization.
PHOTO: Local product Michael Caruso was a regular on the defence of the Soo Eagles during the 2013-2014 NAHL season. (Photo by Mark Krupiarz.)