Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Firehawks good choice for Yanks, Canucks

When Ryan Marshall and Matt Majic looked at their junior hockey options for the 2012-13 season, they each had choices to make.

In the end, only one team made the most sense – the Soo Firehawks of the new Midwest Junior Hockey League.

Located in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the Firehawks are playoff-bound after recently reeling off a 17-game winning streak. The team regularly plays to crowds of 200-300 most weekends at the Big Bear Arena and has a solid mix of players from the United States and Canada.

In Marshall’s case, suiting up for the Firehawks just felt right for the native of St. Ignace, Mich.

“We chose the Firehawks because we knew that it would be the best fit for Ryan,” said Wade Marshall, Ryan’s father. “We have played for the same coaches for the last four years and we knew Ryan would be able to fit in right away. Sault Ste. Marie has been a great place to watch Ryan play at this year. The Firehawks have great fans that are very supportive of the team and we have a great turnout at every home game.

“There is a very rich history with the sport of hockey is this city and it is shown everywhere you go in the city.”

Majic agrees with his teammate.

“The fans have been great and they really know their hockey and understand the game and support the team very well,” the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native said. “As well, the majority of players have played locally, so they know most of us from both sides of the border and cheer us on. Hockey is the top game in town.

“Living in Soo, Ont., a short two-mile drive across the border to the rink in Michigan, I can still live at home, enjoy the support of my family and attend school full time in the fire science program at Lake Superior State University. The team is very well run, the facilities great and the level of hockey in the MWJHL is impressive. Myself, as well as the other Canadians on the team, have been accepted and welcomed as part of the team.”

Majic is joined by countrymen Brandon Hansen (Sault Ste. Marie), Alex Drulia (Fort Erie), Cody Anderson (Sault Ste. Marie), Robby Boissoneau (Sault Ste. Marie) on the Firehawks’ roster.

Drulia’s uncle is former minor pro player Stan Drulia, who played 126 NHL games with the Tampa Bay Lightning and also won an IHL Turner Cup in 1997 as captain of the Detroit Vipers. He has coached at the minor-league level since 2002 and is currently an assistant coach with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

“I chose the Firehawks because I was at an NAHL camp and they invited me to tryouts and when I got up here, I just didn't want to leave because of the great owners and coaching staff that we have,” Alex Drulia said. “This season has helped me out so much because coming here as 17-year-old, I get lots of ice and the coaches rely on my in those situations when we need to put a goal in to tie the game or to win it. When you’re young, you need lots of ice and the more ice you get, the better you'll get as a player.

“With the mix of Canadians and Americans, it has really gone well. I mean, you'll always have those jokes between the two, but our team has really jelled well and I'm really glad I chose the Firehawks this season.”

Hansen, one of the top goalies in the MWJHL this year, is on the same page.

“Choosing to play for the Firehawks this year happened out of luck,” Hansen admitted. “I didn't find out about the team until about three days before the main camp. I got a hold of coach Joe Esson and he gave me the opportunity to come try out not knowing anything about me or seeing me play and I thank him for that or else I would be playing in the local men's league. This season has been great and has helped me improve and develop more as a player and an individual. Having practice everyday gives the team and players the opportunity to improve all the time if you work hard at it.

“For bonding it has been easy. I see these guys everyday and sometimes more than I see my parents, which makes every one of them family to me. As for bonding off the ice, we manage to always stay in contact which each other. I couldn't have asked for a better team, staff and owners and this season has by far been my favorite.”

Still, at the end of the day, citizenship matters little to Majic when suiting up to play hockey.

“Matthew was looking to continue playing hockey and had made the Midget AAA Soo Indians, but they had folded and he wasn't ready to hang up his skates - the competitive fire was still alive,” said Rob Majic, Matt’s father. “We had always told him to play as long as he could at the highest level he could. The coaches from the Indians had forwarded his name to the Firehawks. He went out and enjoyed the caliber of hockey and the team and made the team shortly before the beginning of their season. We talked to the coaches to ensure that the schedule and time commitment was acceptable with his full-time school schedule and that the team philosophy was consistent with ours.

“In the end, it was Matt’s decision and we have been very impressed with the organization and very happy with his choice.”

Marshall said that while the winning has helped with team camaraderie, being in a solid organization with teammates who will be friends for life has also made this year very enjoyable, both on and off the ice.

“This is a really competitive league and there are so many skilled players here,” said Marshall. “A lot of the guys here will get an opportunity to move on next year. It’s a great feeling to me knowing that we’re part of a league that is doing so much to develop its players and push them to the next level.

“I’m definitely happy I chose to play here.”

Marshall has had college offers from the University of Michigan-Dearborn (ACHA Division I) and Calvin College (ACHA D-III), but is leaning towards playing another year of juniors in the 2013-14 season.

“The league has provided great exposure for Ryan,” said Wade Marshall. “Ryan's long-term goals in hockey are to play at the highest level that he possible can. We as a family feel that he has what it takes to play at a very high level of hockey. We feel that Ryan has been taking the right steps in his hockey career to make this happen.”

Majic also has aspirations to ascend the hockey ladder, but for the time being, winning an MWJHL title is the top priority on his plate.

“I would like to continue to play hockey as long as I can at the highest level - I just want to continue to live the dream,” said Majic. “If I can continue to play hockey at a university while continuing my education sometime in the future, that would be great, but right now, the Firehawks are a great fit.”

“He wants to keep playing hockey while getting a solid education,” added Rob Majic. “If hockey presents other opportunities down the road, I'm sure he would be interested. However, the Firehawks and the MWJHL have been a great experience and very rewarding.”

In just its first year of existence, the MWJHL has already seen four players from the regular-season champion Hartland Hounds commit to NCAA D-III Finlandia University in Hancock, Mich. Expect more to be announced across the league in the coming weeks, perhaps even some from the Firehawks.

No comments: