Today's trip begins in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario. The tidy northeastern Ontario town, which is just outside North Bay, is where one North American Hockey League coach spends relaxing time at his summer home, visiting with his parents and helping them out at the golf course they have owned since 1965.
IN LIKE FLINT
Any day now, Moe Mantha will pack up, leave the summer breeze of his mom and dad's Laurentide Golf Club in Sturgeon Falls and return to the Flint area and his job as coach-general manager of the NAHL's Michigan Warriors.
The 51-year old Mantha has been with the Warriors since they joined the NAHL in time for the 2010-11 season.
Mantha, who coached the Warriors to within five minutes of winning the NAHL's Robertson Cup, national tournament championship in 2010-11, will be out to return the Flint-based team to contender status in 2012-13 after finishing fourth in what was a five-team North Division in 2011-12.
The NAHL North will be an eight-team division for the 2012-13 season.
That Mantha is back with the Warriors is a boost for the NAHL team, which has struggled at the gate its first two seasons in Flint but is now being marketed and business-operated by Jim Cain and Jeremy Torrey of Firland Management.
Mantha was approached by a National Hockey League coach about the possibility of joining his staff but decided to return to Flint and the Warriors for a third season.
"I like the junior level and helping develop kids for college hockey and beyond," said Mantha. "I think we can have a good thing in Flint. Having Firland Mangement on board now allows me to fully concentrate on the hockey side of the Warriors."
Mantha, who played in more than 650 NHL games as defenceman, remains convinced that junior hockey can and will be viable in Flint.
"If I didn't, I wouldn't be going back," he said simply.
CHILL IN THE AIR
Coulee Region Chill is prepping for its first NAHL training camp under new owner Michelle Bryant and an incoming hockey staff led by coach-general manager John Hamre and assistant coach A.J. Degenhardt.
Of the players who will report for the beginning of on-ice activity on August 27 are seven holdovers from the 2011-12 edition of the Chill: forwards Jimmy Hughes, Mac Jansen, Tyler Klein and Cory Lushanko, defensemen Brady Riesgraf and Adam Thomas and goaltender Aaron Davis.
Three others who have prior experience with other NAHL teams will also be at training camp, namely forwards Andrew Faust, formerly of the Austin Bruins; Matt Williams, who has skated for Michigan Warriors and Odessa Jackalopes; defenseman Alec Brandrup, formerly of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Had lunch on Wednesday with some good people from Sudbury who were in Sault Ste. Marie for the day.
Joe Drago, who I have known for more than 35 years, is a former general manager and owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves. A retired educator, the highly-respected, legendary Drago also served a term as commissioner of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and now sits on the board of directors for Hockey Canada as its vice chair.
Simply put, Drago is one of the more-honourable, honest people who I have ever met in all my years of covering junior hockey.
With Drago was Robert Mazzuca, who has just completed his first season as commissioner of the NOJHL.
I have only known Mazzuca for a little more than a year but he is someone who I already trust and respect.
I should also mention that the commissioner's 19-year old son, Jordan Mazzuca, was at the lunch that also included my wife, Mary.
Besides being a hockey official, young Mazzuca is also an urban planning student. I'm not sure to what extent hockey will play in Mazzuca's future but let me say that this is a quiet, intelligent, well-spoken, well-read young man who will be a difference-maker in whatever avenues he takes.
GOOD AS GOLD?
I keep hearing that Kirkland Lake Gold Miners will be a team to be reckoned with this coming NOJHL season.
For starters, the second-year NOJHL franchise has a new coach-general manager in Marc Lafleur, who has Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League experience as an assistant.
Lafleur has a good rep as both a teacher and communicator and figures to one day return to the QMJHL as a head coach, if that is a path he chooses to pursue.
The Gold Miners have a good core of returning players led by local product Jordan Turbide, a 1993 birth year who -- get this -- scored 17 goals in just 22 games as an NOJHL rookie last season.
Among others returning to KL for a second season who have the potential to be impact players are compact forward Connor McNally, rugged 6-foot-2, 210 pound winger Jonathan Dionne and homegrown defenceman Gordie Sinclair.