Saturday, January 26, 2008

Junior A hockey may return to the Soo

By Rob Roos
Soo Evening News

SAULT STE. MARIE - Junior A hockey may soon be making a comeback in Sault Ste. Marie.

Plans are in place for the former Soo Indians franchise to rejoin the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League for the 2008-09 season. A group of investors, led by former Sault resident Greg Eagle, is spearheading the movement to bring back a Soo Junior A team.

The team will be coached by OHL veteran Paul Theriault. The name of the Soo team has not been officially decided, and while the “Indians” will still be strongly considered, another nickname is also possible.

The ownership group still needs to complete some financial research, and hopes to reach an agreement with the City of Sault Ste. Marie to play at Pullar Stadium. The team is also seeking further local sponsorship and community support while it finalizes its plans.

“We want to make sure we can pay all of our bills every month, and make sure the team can cover all of its costs,” Theriault said. “Once we do that and reach an agreement with the city, I think if we put a good product on the ice, people will want to come and see it.

“People in Sault Ste. Marie have always loved hockey. We want this to be a ‘community' hockey team. I feel the Sault would support the team and fill a void for developing local players.”

The Indians won the NOJHL championship in 2007, in their first season in Sault Ste. Marie. Former team owner Charlie Perdicaro, a New York land developer, was granted a one-year hiatus before the team went defunct. The Soo franchise must apply and be approved for re-entry to the NOJHL, before it can join the league again for the 2008-09 season.

Previously, the team was called the Northern Michigan Black Bears, and played its games in St. Ignace for its first three years. The Black Bears were the first American team in the NOJHL, before moving to Sault Ste. Marie and reclaiming the Indians' nickname.

Eagle, who grew up playing hockey in the Sault, is now in the real estate business in Florida.

“Greg is very proud to be from Sault Ste. Marie, which was known as ‘Hockeytown USA' when he was growing up,” Theriault said. “He wants to give something back to the community.”

Theriault said the Sault Junior A team will fill a void in the development of young local hockey players, providing them both an athletic experience and educational opportunity.

“It's about going from a boy to a man,” Theriault said. “There is so much potential in a lot of young players in that age group. A lot of good players can slip through the cracks because they just don't find the right opportunity to continue to play. We can hopefully provide that opportunity.”

A Sault Junior A team would bring an exciting brand of hockey back to the venerable Pullar Stadium.

“What better place is there to watch hockey than the Pullar?” Theriault said. “It's a great venue. I believe local hockey fans would love to see Junior A hockey at the Pullar.”

Theriault coached 14 years in the Ontario Hockey League with the Soo Greyhounds, Oshawa Generals and Erie Otters. He has been an assistant in the National Hockey League with the Buffalo Sabres, among his other coaching stops. Most recently, he coached with the Nippon Paper Cranes in Japan, helping lead the team to the Asia League championship last year.

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