Sunday, February 26, 2006

Marquette to ice team in NAHL

Junior A Rangers will play at Lakeview Arena next season

By Matt Mackinder
Courtesy of Michigan Hockey

It looks like the Alpena IceDiggers and Traverse City North Stars will get a new in-state rival this fall.

The Marquette Rangers have officially joined the North American Hockey League and will begin play this fall out of the 3100-seat Lakeview Arena. The Rangers will be managed by three principals: David Saint-Onge will serve as president and general manager, Rich Tegge will serve as vice president and director of hockey operations and Brad Layzell will serve the team as vice president and director of player development. Saint-Onge has an extensive business background and serves as president of TriMedia Consultants, Inc., a multi-disciplined professional service firm with offices in Michigan, Wisconsin and Montana. Tegge is a wealth manager with Salomon-Smith Barney and Layzell is a former Detroit Vipers’ defenseman and NHL draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens who will be instrumental in developing the team’s players.

A head coach is expected be named by the end of February.

Though the official announcement came Feb. 15, the process of getting a Junior A team in Marquette began some time back.

“We actually started our due diligence about three years ago,” said Saint-Onge. “Marquette is a great community, but there was a bit of a gap with our hockey. We have a tremendous youth program as well as excellent high school and midget (AAA Marquette Electricians) programs and then Northern Michigan University is also in town. There wasn’t a junior program. There are a lot of good players that come through here that had to leave here to play juniors.”

Saint-Onge also said that in the summer of 2003 when the NAHL had some problems with teams leaving and folding, the Marquette contingent suspended their expansion operation.

“But once the league reorganized, we picked up the pace and did more research,” he added. “The dynamics just make a lot of sense, especially with the new teams in Alpena and Traverse City. And when the Soo Indians franchise folded last spring, that created a void that we felt we could fill. We’ve always felt the Upper Peninsula should have junior hockey.”

In the Marquette community, even now the rallying support is evident. Three coaches recently told the Mining Journal that having a junior program in Marquette provides a positive feeling in town.

Marquette Senior High School head coach Joe Papin said the Rangers will do nothing but help his program.

“Our guys don't get a lot of (recruiting) looks other than when we go downstate,” he said. “This little bit of (Junior A) exposure brings a lot of scouts. With a Junior A program here, it brings more of an opportunity for our kids to go to the next level.”

Electricians head coach Jon Nebel echoed Papin’s sentiments and said the formation of the Rangers is a “win-win situation” for all those involved.

“It'll keep Marquette-based players closer to home,” said Nebel. “We look forward to forging a relationship with the Ranger players, coaching staff and organization for the betterment of the Marquette-based hockey player.”

Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle said he welcomes the Rangers, who will be the NAHL’s 21st team starting next season. Kyle said it will give the Wildcats another recruiting venue that won’t put miles on their cars.

“We look at the Rangers as something that will benefit our program,” he said. “We spend X-amount of dollars every year recruiting. This is going to give us a more convenient avenue with which to watch players (we may recruit). It'll be a lot easier for us to see Michigan players.”

And even as the Rangers will give area players an opportunity to stay and live at home while playing Junior A hockey, it’s not the No. 1 reason Saint-Onge and company put a NAHL team in Marquette.

“We’d obviously love to get a lot of the local kids,” Saint-Onge said. “But we’re not going to focus our entire efforts here getting all local kids. The kids have to have the talent to be able to play at this level, too. The Rangers are just one option, as there are also the other 20 NAHL teams and the USHL. But still, if we get a couple local kids, I think that could definitely help our fan base.”

Once a head coach is in place, Marquette will start evaluating players to tender and draft for their inaugural roster. The lone new team in 2006-07, the Rangers will have the first overall draft selection in this spring’s entry draft.

“When we first made the announcement (about joining the NAHL), we had 14 applicants for the head coaching position,” noted Saint-Onge. “That list has since grown to more than 25. We’re short-listing the candidates and reviewing resumes and we should have a coach hired here shortly. We’re also starting to get tryouts planned for Marquette, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.”

With a plethora of hockey in the area, Saint-Onge also said that they are going to go to great lengths to avoid any scheduling conflicts so that when the Rangers are at home, NMU is on the road and vice versa.

“We may even be able to schedule a couple days where we all play together,” Saint-Onge explained. “Maybe the Electricians play late morning/early afternoon, we play the matinee and then the Wildcats play at night. We’ll be out in the community and the community has already started to support us and put their arms around us.

“We’ll be ready to go on Sept. 15.”

No comments: