By: Randy Russon - Junior Hockey News / Mika Media
Maybe we can call it the Big 8.
Eight North Division teams will be part of a revamped North American Hockey League for the 2012-13 season. The North was a five-team division during the 2011-12 campaign.
Four of the eight teams in the NAHL North will be from the state of Michigan - Soo Eagles, Port Huron Fighting Falcons, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings and the Flint-based Michigan Warriors.
Notably, the other four teams in the NAHL North are from four other states - Jamestown Ironmen (New York), Janesville Jets (Wisconsin), Johnstown Tomahawks (Pennsylvania) and Springfield Jr. Blues (Illinois.)
At any rate, here is just some of what is simmering around the NA North.
MILAN THE MAN
Soo Eagles are one of three teams from three different leagues that could provide a 2012-13 season landing spot for Detroit phenom Cody Milan.
After four productive seasons in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League -- including one championship -- the Eagles on May 31 drafted eight players as new members of the NAHL.
It was in the second round of the annual NAHL draft that the Eagles snared young Milan, a forward from the Orchard Park, St. Mary's high school program.
A plum prospect, Milan has now been drafted by three different junior leagues this year.
A 1996 birth year, Milan was taken in the first round, ninth overall, by the Sioux City Stampede at the 2012 United States Hockey League futures draft. The skilled forward was also picked by the Soo Greyhounds in the fourth round of the 2012 Ontario Hockey League draft.
"We're extremely happy that Cody could be playing with us this coming season," said Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo."He's a big kid, about 6-foot-3, high-scoring and with unbelievable potential. He's a can't miss prospect. I know that (Greyhound general manager) Kyle Dubas can't say enough about this kid."
Interestingly, the Eagles could have two Greyhound draft picks playing for them come the 2012-13 NAHL season.
Besides Milan, the other one is 1995 birth year defenceman Tyler Sehovic.
Sehovic, who was the Greyhounds 13th-round pick from the AAA midget Soo North Stars at the 2011 OHL Draft, spent the 2011-12 season in the NOJHL with the Eagles. If Sehovic doesn't sign with the Greyhounds before the start of the 2012-13 campaign, he could well end up going with the Eagles from the NOJHL to the NAHL.
"We like Tyler a lot," Bragagnolo said of the 6-foot-2, 185 lb. Sehovic. "He needs to get stronger but he's an excellent skater who moves the puck well."
The Fighting Falcons is a catchy name that fits Port Huron's NAHL team, with that species of bird known for its survival energy beneath the Blue Water Bridge that is a watermark of the picturesque Michigan town that links it with Sarnia, Ontario via the St. Clair River.
But "Fighting Falcons" has taken on a different meaning since the end of the 2011-12, NAHL North Division title season for Port Huron.
It began when NAHL coach-of-the-year Bill Warren either gave up or relinquished his general manager's duties -- his version and that of Fighting Falcons primary owner Maribeth Hayes differ -- and Steve Shannon was hired to be the GM.
Warren subsequently resigned as coach and resisted overtures from Shannon to re-consider.
Shannon then conducted a search for a new head coach but then decided to add that position to his GM's duties with the blessing of Hayes.
Since then, there has been snipping and snapping from Warren and Hayes with Shannon in the middle of the breakup.
Let me say that I have had a plethora of phone conversations -- both related and unrelated to the coaching and managerial changes regarding the Port Huron hockey department -- with Warren, Hayes and Shannon.
Thus far, I like all three of them and have been given no reason to distrust any of them.
Without taking sides and with taking into account all that I have heard, let me harken back to an old saying: "The boss may not always be right but he or she has the right to be the boss."
In the case of the Port Huron Fighting Falcons, Hayes is the one who has put her money where her mouth is, ergo Hayes as the boss has the right to do what she thinks is right.
I keep hearing from sources who I deem to be reliable that the Jamestown Ironmen will have a different look to it come the 2012-13 NAHL season.
For one, the team is expected to sport new jerseys as part of an expansive new marketing plan designed to better acquaint the Ironmen with the hardworking fans of Jamestown, a western New York town that is geographically close -- as in less than 90 miles -- to the National Hockey League venue that is the Buffalo Sabres.
But I am getting mixed messages as to who will be coaching the Ironmen next season.
In one corner, it's being said that Dan Daikawa will be back for his second season as coach-general manager of the Ironmen.
In another corner, it's being said that Ironmen owner Kenji Yamada is searching for someone with a past or present link to the NHL Sabres to take charge of hockey operations in Jamestown
And in another corner, ah forget it...