THUNDER BAY, Ont. – Its been eight years since the Thunder Bay North Stars were crowned champions of the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
Having last won the Bill Salonen Cup back in 2010, the current version of the North Stars is making big strides in an effort to return to the glory years of the organization where they played in seven straight league finals between 2004-10 and came away victorious in five of them.
Now as 2017-18 SIJHL coach of the year Robert DeGagne gets set to lead his charges into his second campaign behind the Thunder Bay bench, optimism is high the club can return to championship status.
The North Stars boasted the best record in the SIJHL in the second half of last season going 22-3-1-1 and advanced all the way to the SIJHL finals before falling in six games to the two-time defending Bill Salonen Cup champion Dryden GM Ice Dogs.
With a solid nucleus of returning players and some key additions to the Thunder Bay line-up, the following perspective offers insight on the squad in this latest installment of SIJHL team previews, which today highlights the North Stars.
SIJHL: After advancing to the finals last season and competing in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, what are your expectations for the club heading into 2018-19?
ROB DEGAGNE: We would definitely like to get back to where we made it last season in advancing to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup. I think that I speak for not just my self but also the entire organization when I say that we expect to make it back to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup this season and hopefully advance even further by going to the Canadian Jr. A Championship. I think having the experience and knowing what it takes to not only get to that point, but to compete at that level, will benefit our group going forward.
SIJHL: Give us your thoughts on what you’ve seen from your team in training camp so far.
R.D.: Training camp has been a success so far. We have gotten the returning players going again and really seen some solid improvements from them. It has also been nice to see some of the new guys come in a compete for spots on the team and display their skills. We have seen some good fast-paced practices and scrimmages to this point.
SIJHL: Who are a couple of returning players you expect big things from?
R.D.: I think that our coaching staff is looking to get a lot out of the older guys this year. Especially players like Brendan Gillis, Ryan Mignault and Alex Maticic who are all entering their last junior season. We will be looking for them to lead our team this year in the right direction. It will be nice to have defenceman Kyle Auger with us this year for a full season this year and see him build on the success he had with us last year. Finally, we are excited to see Keighan Gerrie, who won the SIJHL rookie of the year in 2017-18, take a step forward and bring his game to the next level. We are also very excited about our goaltending tandem with returning goalie Dougie Newhouse and newcomer Brock Aiken.
SIJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that you’ve been impressed with early on?
R.D.: We have a good number of new players this year and are excited to see what they can do once the season begins. Goaltender Brock Aiken has looked good so far and we are hoping that his junior experience will prove to be valuable throughout the season. Defenceman Josh Bryant has been great as well and we know that he will be a solid addition to the team this year. We also have a good nucleus of young forwards that have come into the mix this year that we are excited to see play. Brock is from Thunder Bay and spent the last two seasons playing in the MJHL for the Portage Terriers. Josh is from Moose Jaw, Sask., and played last season in the SJHL for the Yorkton Terriers
SIJHL: What style of play will you attempt to instill in your team to try and be successful in the league?
R.D.: I think that we will have to play to our strengths and we will be able to compete night in and night out in this league. We are looking at building a fast, skilled team this season and I think that we have brought in the right pieces to do so.
SIJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season and beyond?
R.D.: Going into the regular season our goal would be to get off to a good start to put us in the best position come playoff time. I think we need to instil the style of play that we are looking for out of the team and get them to buy in to the system. If we are able to do that as a group, there is no reason why we should not have the same kind of success that we had last year.
SIJHL: Any closing comments you’d like to provide to wrap it up?
R.D.: Excited to get started with the 2018-19 season and to continue to build on the winning culture of our program.
Photo credit: Gary Moskalyk