Soo Thunderbirds are a single victory away from winning the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League championship.
But while the Thunderbirds have been the best team on ice this NOJHL season, its off-ice reputation is not the best.
In fact, regardless of how the rest of this season plays out for the Thunderbirds, the hour of decision is looming for head coach Preston Mizzi.
For one, Mizzi has already applied for a head coaching position within the AAA minor bantam ranks of the Sault Major Hockey Association for next season. But whether Mizzi gets the gig that he has applied for or not, I suspect that his days as Thunderbirds bench boss are drawing near.
Thunderbirds president and primary owner Albert Giommi -- who was named NOJHL Executive of the Year for the 2011-12 season -- told me recently that he has "concerns" over certain off-ice behaviour involving his team.
And NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca has twice been in Sault Ste. Marie over the past two weeks as part of an investigation that I am hearing deals directly with alleged off-ice misconduct involving the Thunderbirds.
Most telling, perhaps, is what Giommi -- who is a respected, honourable Sault Ste. Marie businessmen -- recently told me.
"There have been off-ice distractions that have taken away from the successful season that we, the Soo Thunderbirds, have had on the ice so far. As much as we like to win, we pride ourselves on being a good organization that is here for the betterment of our players, both on and off the ice."
As radio announcers have been saying for years: "Stay tuned."
NORTH, TO THE NAHL
...There are two players on the Kalamazoo Jr. K- Wings of the North American Hockey League who I am rather familiar with, having watched them numerous times while they were starring in the NOJHL with the Soo Eagles. And, to be sure, forwards Robbie Payne and Brock Raffaele have made an impact since moving to the NAHL and K-Zoo. Payne, who had 26-29-55 totals in 59 regular-season games, has 2 goals and 3 assists in 2 playoff games to date. Raffaele, who was 11-13-24 in just 27 regular-season contests, is 0-2-2 in 2 playoff games for the Jr. K-Wings, who lead the lame-duck Traverse City North Stars two games to none in their first-round, best-of-five, NAHL North Division series. The TC franchise becomes the Soo Eagles effective the end of this season.
...Bruno Bragagnolo, who will make the move with the Soo Eagles from the NOJHL to the NAHL as general manager and coach, has been his usual busy self these days. Bragagnolo, who has an old-fashioned work ethic that I suspect he inherited from his parents, has been huddling with his assistant GM Gerry Fraser and head scout Tom Farnquist in tendering players for the 2012-13 NAHL season. Knowing Bragagnolo rather well, there are many good things I can tell you about the man from his good character to his quiet, albeit friendly disposition. As for Bragagnolo as a hockey guy, I will add this: No one will out-work him.
...I have watched every minute of both NAHL North Division playoff games between Port Huron Fighting Falcons and Michigan Warriors and the styles of coaches Bill Warren and Moe Mantha appear to be polar opposite. Warren's Fighting Falcons play an open-ice, free-wheeling style while Mantha's Warriors like to sit back, wait for a mistake, and then strike. Of course, most coaches employ different styles depending on whether they are at home or on the road. Ergo, we could see some change in strategies when the best-of-five series shift from Port Huron to Flint for Games 3 and 4 this Friday and Saturday night. The series is tied 1-1.
...Port Huron defenceman Ryan Teal, who was injured in the series opener, is expected to return to the Fighting Falcons lineup for Game 3.