The 2011-12 season is officially over in both the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the North American Hockey League. But that doesn't mean teams in the two high-end junior leagues have closed shop until September.
On the contrary.
Not only are most teams in the NOJHL and NAHL active with recruiting through signing, tendering and tryouts, there is breeze blowing in from persistent trade winds and rampant rumours.
To be sure, an off-season of intrigue is being rehearsed in areas of the NOJHL and NAHL.
Fresh from five years of success in the non-sanctioned Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League, the Elliot Lake Bobcats are ready for the prime time of the NOJHL.
As it stands now, the addition of Elliot Lake and the loss of the Soo Eagles to the NAHL has the NOJHL maintaining the status quo with seven teams. But NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca remains hopeful of retaining a team in northern Michigan by possibly re-directing the Eagles franchise to St. Ignace.
Then there's the saga of the NOJHL and Dudley Hewitt Cup champion Soo Thunderbirds, who made it all the way to the semi-finals of the Royal Bank Cup before losing out to the eventual national champion Penticton Vees.
Not only will the Thunderbirds have a new-look coaching staff come the 2012-13 season in the wake of the indefinite suspensions handed by the NOJHL to headmaster Preston Mizzi and his top assistant Jamie Henderson but changes are expected within the executive and managerial offices.
While jittery general manager Kevin Cain is expected to keep his job, his reputation is not what it once was given the weak, meek manner in which he handled the adversity from the independent, third-party investigation that resulted in the suspensions to Mizzi and Henderson.
Besides, there are those who think Cain, as GM and the man in charge of Thunderbird hockey operations, should be held accountable for the alleged actions of his coaching staff.
A pair of teams from the Midwest Division, the Chicago Hitmen and St. Louis Bandits, have folded or gone inactive within the last few days and realignment of sorts is a virtual certainty for the 2012-13 season.
While Chicago and St. Louis have gone dormant, there's a fresh start in Sault Ste. Marie where the Michigan-based Eagles have joined the NAHL and will compete in the North Division after four seasons in the NOJHL.
The Eagles held their first of three off-season tryout camps on the weekend with more than 130 hopefuls on ice at the Soo.
The Eagles figure to have no shortage of proven junior hockey players to draw from for their first NAHL season.
Besides standing to gain several players from the Traverse City North Stars franchise that was purchased by Eagles owner Ron Lavin and moved to the Soo, there are a number of quality performers from the NOJHL squad are capable of making the jump to the NAHL.
Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo is in a position of strength and could have NAHL rivals inquiring about the availability of any one of his goalies.
Not only do the Eagles have first crack at holdover netminders Kyle Laslo and Zach Nagelvoort from the Traverse City team but the highly-regarded Chris Truehl is Soo property after spending the 2011-12 season with the NOJHL squad.
In the North Division alone, there are teams looking to add goalies.
The North Division champion Port Huron Fighting Falcons have lost goalie Peter Megariotis to graduation and the Michigan Warriors are looking to replace Brach Tiller, who has exhausted his junior eligibility.
Elsewhere in the North, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings goalie Ken MacLean is off to the Division 1, Rochester Institute of Technology program. And the Jamestown Ironmen have lost backup Joe Gladnick to graduation while dealing with the notion that Joe Ballmer might want to play his last season of junior closer to his hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich.