Michigan Warriors have put a worrisome season behind them. Soo Eagles have their eyes on a pair of First Nation prospects. Soo Thunderbirds begin their championship defence this week. Soo Greyhounds got some good news from afar. A Hall-of-Famer will drop in on the Johnstown Tomahawks. Welcome to a Labour Day Monday merry-go-round.
BAND OF WARRIORS
All systems are go for Michigan Warriors, who are about to begin their third North American Hockey League season in Flint.
The Warriors return just six players from the 2011-12 team that finished fourth in what was a five-team, North Division. But sportswriter Ross Maghielse, who covers the Warriors for Mlive.com and the Flint Journal, noted in a recent column that the atmosphere surrounding the team is relaxed and "all about hockey."
Ownership concerns hovered over the Warriors last season and the franchise actually filed for dormancy before coming to a new deal with its home rink, Perani Arena. The Warriors will be marketed and run from the business end by Firland Management this season with Jeremy Torrey in place as director of sales and marketing.
On ice, the esteemed Moe Mantha returns for his third season as coach-general manager and while the Warriors have just the six returning players, there is a genuine optimism coming from the hockey boss.
"We're young but that can be a good thing," said Mantha, who in 2010-11 led a first-year Warriors team on an unexpected run that ended with a loss to Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the NAHL's Robertson Cup, championship game. "We have some young kids who really want to be here and we have some older players who will lead by example."
Two third-year forwards expected to be on-and-off-ice leaders for the Warriors this season are captain Martin Gruse and fellow Michigander Tyler Perpich.
FIRST NATION FACTOR
Soo Eagles will face off against an NAHL opponent for the first time this weekend when they play host to Fairbanks Ice Dogs in a pair of Friday-Saturday exhibition games at Pullar Stadium.
The Eagles are part of the eight-team North Division of the NAHL, while the Alaska-based Ice Dogs play out of the four-member West Division.
After four years in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League -- including the past two under the current regime of owner Ron Lavin, coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo and assistant GM Gerry Fraser -- the Eagles joined the NAHL after acquiring and relocating the Traverse City North Stars franchise this past spring.
Bragagnolo, who calls the hockey shots for the Eagles, plans on using this weekend's exhibition set against Fairbanks as a major tuneup for the 2012-13 regular season, which begins with the annual NAHL showcase tournament September 12-15 in Blaine, Minnesota.
Two players from the Canadian side of the International Bridge who could earn roster spots with the Eagles for the 2012-13 season are 1994 birth year forward Davis Boyer and 1995 birth year defenceman Tyler Sehovic. Both are graduates of Soo North Stars of the Great North Midget Hockey League.
Boyer has played the past two seasons with St. Thomas Stars of the Greater Ontario Jr. Hockey League after being selected by Niagara Ice Dogs from the Soo midgets in the 13th round of the 2010 Ontario Hockey League draft. Boyer has permission from St. Thomas to skate with the Eagles, who could finalize a trade for the speedy forward sometime soon.
Sehovic spent the 2011-12 season in the NOJHL with the Eagles after Soo Greyhounds took him in the 13th round of the 2011 OHL draft. Sehovic exited the Greyhound training camp this past weekend to protect his National Collegiate Athletic Asociation, Division 1 eligibility.
Interestingly, neither Boyer or Sehovic are classified as import players, despite being Canadian-born. Both are of First Nation descent, thus are not lumped into the import category. Which is a bonus for the Eagles.
HOUNDS ON HIGH
The last week of August began on a low and ended on a high for the OHL Greyhounds.
From the low of veteran forwards Nick Cousins, Andrew Fritsch and Mark Petaccio being charged by Sault Ste. Marie police with sexual assault on an adult female came the high of Russian-born forward Sergei Tolchinsky commiting to play the 2012-13 OHL season with the Greyhounds.
Tolchinsky, a 1995 birth year, was taken by the Greyhounds in the first round, 12th overall, at the 2012 Canadian Hockey League import draft
Tolchinsky, who stands in at 5-foot-7 and tips the scales at a reported 150 pounds, posted 19-15-34 totals in 51 regular-season games while playing for CSKA-Krasnaja Armija Moskva in 2011-12.
He later helped Russia win the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and made the tournament all-star team.
BIRD SEASON BEGINS
An off-season removed from NOJHL and Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada championships, Soo Thunderbirds will take to the ice of the Essar Centre this Friday night for their first game of the 2012-13 campaign. Led by former assistant Warren Lavoy, who was promoted to head coach over the summer, the reigning champion Thunderbirds will play host to Blind River Beavers.
While there are major changes to the Thunderbirds, not only within the coaching staff but on the player roster by way of graduation and relocation, one constant is general manager Kevin Cain, who returns for his third season with the team in his current role.
Cain, who has been named NOJHL all-star manager in each of his two seasons with the Thunderbirds, has had a busy off-season in re-making the roster. And despite the overhaul, Cain believes the Thunderbirds will ice a competitive squad in 2012-13.
"I think despite the changes, our fans expect us to be very competitive," he said evenly. "The phrase rebuilding I don't like because it seems to be a built-in excuse to not be good. We have a lot on the table player wise with trades and if it works out on most of them it could be a special year. We are thin on D at this point but are working to resolve depth issues there. Our goaltending will be good. The unknown will be goal production from our top six forwards."
NHL LEGEND IN JOHNSTOWN
Lemieux, who spent his entire NHL playing career in Pittsburgh and who is now co-owner and chairman of the Penguins, will be joined by NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld as part of Sept. 29 festivities in Johnstown.
The 2012-13 campaign will be inaugural season in the NAHL for the Tomahawks. Tomahawks ownership purchased the former Alaska Avalanche franchise during the off-season and moved it to the Pennsylvania town of Johnstown.