Eagles land in NAHL nest at peak time
|Thursday, 22 March 2012 00:00|
By: Randy Russon - Junior Hockey News/Mika Media
Soo Eagles are in good company.
After four seasons in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League in which they were 2010-11 champions, the Eagles are leaving for the North American Hockey League effective the 2012-13 campaign.
The Eagles will continue to play their home games at venerable Pullar Stadium in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
Bruno Bragaganolo, who will lead the Eagles into the NAHL, where they will compete in the North Division, is looking forward to the new challenge, though he said he will miss the NOJHL.
"Leaving the NOJHL for the NAHL is bittersweet," said Bragagnolo, who was the Eagles coach and general manager during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 NOJHL seasons. "The NOJHL is a good league and I have made some good friendships there. We just think the NAHL offers more opportunities for our players at the (National Collegiate Athletic Association) level."
Currently a 28-team, five-division league spanning 14 American states (including Michigan) more than 100 NAHL players have received commitments from NCAA schools during the current 2011-12 season.
As well, the NAHL is reporting that it set a new record during the 2011-12 regular season with a league-average attendance of 1,342.
NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld is of the notion that the players who are developing within the league are a key to growing the junior hockey game.
"Our teams have done a tremendous job of promoting our game and the players play with an exuberance and passion that translates into a competitive atmosphere on the ice," said Frankenfeld. "Not only does the NAHL provide players with an opportunity to develop their hockey careers and advance to the next level, but it also provides fans in the respective NAHL communities an entertaining product to watch."
While the California-based Fresno Monsters led the NAHL during the 2011-12 regular season with an average attendance per game of 3,557, two second-year franchises that are based in Michigan are going through some mild growing pains.
The Port Huron Fighting Falcons averaged 715 fans and the Flint-based Michigan Warriors drew an average of 669. While respectable, those numbers have room for improvement.
It should be noted that fans in Port Huron and Flint are used to the minor pro game from years in the International Hockey League and getting used to the junior level may take a while.
Port Huron coach-general manager Bill Warren told me that "Our numbers have improved from last season to this. We are definitely attracting more of a following."
Warren added that he and the Fighting Falcons are "certainly looking forward to establishing a rivalry with the Soo Eagles next season."
Moe Mantha, coach-general manager of the Flint-based Warriors, told me that now that his team has committed to a new lease at Perani Arena and Event Centre, "We hope to increase our fan base now that we have indicated that we are going to be here for the foreseeable future."
The Warriors briefly declared dormancy for the 2012-13 season only to recently secure a new lease with Perani Arena.
The 51-year old Mantha, who grew up in Sturgeon Falls, Ont. (just outside North Bay) before becoming a first-round Ontario Hockey League draft pick of the erstwhile Toronto Marlboros and then going on to play close to 700 National Hockey League games as a journeyman defenceman, is also looking forward to the Eagles joining the NAHL.
"I hear nothing but good about Bruno, the Soo Eagles and the hockey community up there," said Mantha. "We're looking forward to establishing a strong rivalry with the Eagles, that is for sure."
Mantha said he hopes to take advantage of an NAHL rule that allows all teams two Canadian-born players on their roster. He added that he is looking to Sault Ste. Marie for possible additions to the Warriors for the 2012-13 season.
Likewise are Bragagnolo and the Eagles keeping tabs on players from the Canadian side of the St. Mary's River.
Defenceman Tyler Sehovic, formerly of the AAA midget Soo North Stars and a 2011 Ontario Hockey League draft pick of the Soo Greyhounds, played in the NOJHL with the Eagles during the 2011-12 campaign. If he doesn't end up with the Greyhounds come the 2012-13 season, Sehovic could well remain with the Eagles now that they are in the NAHL.
As a person of First Nation descent, Sehovic is not classified as an import player as far as the NAHL is concerned. Thus, the Eagles, for example, could sign Sehovic and still have room for two other Canadian-born players.
As of now, the Eagles will be part of a five-team NAHL North Division for the 2011-12 season. Pending any division re-alignment, the Eagles will compete in the NAHL North with Port Huron Fighting Falcons, Michigan Warriors, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings and Jamestown Ironmen.
|Last Updated on Monday, 16 April 2012 19:47|