Monday, February 25, 2008

Soo junior team coming back?

By Randy Russon

More than 30 years ago, circa 1975, Paul Theriault started his coaching career behind the bench of the Michigan Soo Indians of the International Junior Hockey League.

Now a venerable coach who has had subsequent stops in the Ontario Hockey League (Soo Greyhounds, Oshawa Generals and Erie Otters), the National Hockey League (Buffalo Sabres) and gigs that have taken him to Germany, Italy and Japan, Theriault hopes to again be where it all started for him.

As the coach of a Michigan Soo junior hockey team.

The 57-year old Theriault is spearheading a bid to return a Michigan Soo franchise to the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League for the 2008-09 season. The Michigan Soo Indians won the NOJHL title in 2006-07 with Kevin Cain as coach, but the franchise was revoked from erstwhile owner Charles Perdicaro last summer and mothballed for the 2007-08 campaign.

Enter Theriault, who has been busy this winter trying to gather the financial backing to revive the franchise for the 2008-09 NOJHL season.

"We've got an out of state investor with ties to the (Michigan Soo) community in place as well as commitments from local investors," said Theriault.

But the Canadian Soo native, who has maintained a Michigan Soo area residence with his wife Janice for more than 30 years, said he hopes to have more investors on board.

"We are trying to avoid what happened with previous ownerships," said Theriault, referring to when Perdicaro, who resides in East Rockway, N.Y., owned the Indians and when the franchise, known as the Northern Michigan Black Bears, was controlled by partners from outside the Upper Peninsula.

"We don't this to be a one-or-two-year thing," Theriault said. "We want to re-establish a junior hockey franchise (in the Michigan Soo) for the long term."

Theriault, who said he is "very confident" of a Michigan Soo return to the NOJHL for '08-09, said the team would play its home games downtown at historic Pullar Stadium. Both the former Indians and Black Bears played their games at Big Bear Arena on the outskirts of town.

"We need to draw from the downtown area and the Pullar, with its location and rich history, is the place for us to be," Theriault emphasized.

The ancient Pullar will be undergoing renovations over the next while after getting approval from Michiagn Soo's City Commission last week.

Theriault, who plans on coaching the revived Michigan Soo entry should it be a part of the NOJHL in 2008-09, said he only wants student-athletes on the team, preferably from the area,

"It will be a criteria for all of our players to be post-secondary school students at either Lake Superior State University, Algoma University or Sault College," Theriault added. "We don't want high school-aged players...we don't want to disrupt the area high school hockey programs."

Theriault added that his plan is for the team to practice at the Pullar in the morning and for the players to attend school in the afternoon and/or at night.

Theriault, who has had discussions with NOJHL commissioner Mark Seidel about a return of the Michigan Soo for '08-09, said he hopes to meet with league governors "sooner than later." Should the NOJHL grant the return, the franchise would also need the approval of USA Hockey in order to play in the Northern League.

It's not a given that if a Michigan Soo franchise returns to the NOJHL that it would be called the Indians though, according to Theriault.

"It's a different generation, maybe it's time for a name change, I don't know. We'll let the community decide that," said Theriault.

Al Jones, general manager and part owner of the Soo Thunderbirds, is hoping for the return of a crossriver Michigan Soo franchise.

"It would not only cut down on our travel, but re-establish the longstanding Twin Soo rivalry," said Jones.

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