THUNDER BAY, Ont. – After a decade-long drought, the Thunder Bay North Stars ended last season as Superior International Junior Hockey League champions.
Now boasting a SIJHL-record six Bill Salonen Cup triumphs to their credit, Thunder Bay will go in search of title No. 7 this season as their 2019-20 campaign begins Friday evening in Spooner, Wis., against the expansion Wisconsin Lumberjacks.
While the North Stars lost a number of key cogs that led them to their latest league crown, they still boast a solid core of returnees, along with a talented group of newcomers who should bolster the club’s line-up.
They racked up a SIJHL-best 49 victories in 2018-19 and have 89 in total under head coach Robert DeGagne, who enters his third year with the club.
Here’s a look at the fifth of six SIJHL team season previews, which features the Thunder Bay North Stars.
SIJHL: What expectations do you have for your club entering the 2019-20 season?
ROBERT DEGAGNE: Our expectations for our team this upcoming season are to defend as the SIJHL Champions and win the Duddley Hewitt. On an individual level we would like to move as many players as we can on to higher levels of hockey and education.
SIJHL: How has training camp gone so far and what have you seen from the players that stands out?
RD: Our training camp has gone very well. We have a great skating team and we have many players that have stood out at camp. On defence we have Logan Mihalcin and Max Fortin who both have had a real solid camp. We will rely on both of them for their experience and leadership. We have a number of returning forwards that have had a fantastic camp as well, incuding Jacob Brown, Joel Willan, Alex and Ben Erwin, just to name a few.
SIJHL: Who are a couple of returning players that you look for to play a pivotal role on the club?
RD: We have nine returning forwards and we may still have one or two more coming back. We expect big years out of our role players like Robert Tyska, Mike Vecchio, Jayden Mrakic and Evan Nicholas. As well goaltender Doug Newhouse is returning and we feel Doug is poised to have a real good year.
SIJHL: Who are some of the new players you’ve signed that you expect to perform well in the SIJHL?
RD: We have a few new faces that we’re real excited about. Nikolas Campbell played last year with the Thunder Bay Kings and has had a fantastic camp and we’re real excited about his game. We’ve also added a few more Thunder Bay Kings players Jack Michaelis, Jordan Smith, and Johnny McCollum.
SIJHL: What goals do you have for yourself and the team heading into the start of the regular season?
RD: Were really looking forward to getting the season underway and seeing how we stack up against the rest of the teams. We would like to get off to a good start and it’s very exciting for us to start our season against the newest team in our league, the Wisconsin Lumberjacks.
SIJHL: How will you look to build upon from winning the North Stars first Bill Salonen Cup in a decade?
RD: As an organization were extremely proud to be defending Bill Salonen Cup champions. Our goal is to build a winning tradition and compete for the Bill Salonen Cup ever year.
SIJHL: Do you have having closing thoughts or comments to wrap things up?
RD: The Thunder Bay North Stars organization is extremely proud to compete in the SIJHL along side our five partner Teams. The level of hockey is excellent and that is shown by the number of graduates that have gone on to higher levels of Hockey and Education. As a league our success has grown and that is a tribute to the six member teams in our league.