By Scott Nason
“The Game” ESPN 1400
The Soo Eagles return to Pullar Stadium Tuesday, October 13, and Wednesday October 14, as they host a pair of exhibition games against the U.S. National Development Under-17 team. Game time is 7 p.m. both nights, and tickets are available for purchase in the Soo Eagles coaches’ office, in the back of the Pullar.
The Eagles have scheduled several exhibition games over the next couple of months, as they continue to wait to hear more on the upcoming Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League season. The NOJHL released their “Return To Play” guidelines in late August, but no official updates have been released, as they continue a wait and see attitude, and they keep in touch with public health officials and their governing bodies trying to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Eagles held their main tryout camp in August, and will officially begin practice on Saturday, October 10 at the Pullar, before taking on the U.S. National Development Under-17 team, coached by former Soo Indian and Lake Superior State University player, Adam Nightingale.
The Eagles exhibition schedule in October, will see them travel to Adrian College on Oct 16-17, and Janesville, Wisconsin to take on the Janesville Jets of the North American Hockey League on Oct 23-24. The Eagles are trying to schedule an opponent for Oct 30-31.
November will see the Eagles take on the Lake Superior State University Club team on November 6-7 at Pullar Stadium, and travel to Trine University on November 28th in Lake Forest, Ill.
Soo Eagles General Manager, Bruno Bragagnolo was interviewed on “The Game” this past Monday night on ESPN 1400 and said, “we have to find a way to get through this season till we get back to normal, and I believe it will be sooner or later, and our league is determined to have a season. There are a lot of land mines out there, but we are taking it day to day and trying to get something going.”
Doug Laprade will be back behind the bench this season, returning as head coach, and the Eagles also are welcoming back former head coach, Jim Capy, who will be assistant coach once the U.S/Canada border opens up. The Eagles are also looking at a couple local candidates to round out their coaching staff.
The Eagles will start their training camp with around 25 players according to Bragagnolo, including Bobby Price from Sault Ste. Marie, who will also be team captain, and returning players goaltender Gabe Rosek and Ryan Gilmore, defenseman Nolan Dresch and Malik Ali, and forward Kyle Portlock.
“The boys are anxious to get at it,” said Bragagnolo, “the official check in is Saturday, October 10, we start practicing on Sunday and Monday, and then we play Tuesday and get thrown right into the fire.”
Head coach Doug Laprade was instrumental in scheduling next week’s games against the US National U-17 team, due to his connections with their coach, Adam Nightingale, and that team features many players with a lot of talent and Division 1 college hockey commitments.
“I’m elated they want to come up here and play us at the Pullar,” said Bragagnolo.
With the ever changing limits on indoor capacity due to COVID-19, Bragagnolo feels the Eagles will be in good shape when it comes to their plan at the Pullar.
“As of right now we are going to be allowed to have 500 people,” said Bragagnolo. “Fans will have to wear masks and social distance and not be experiencing any symptoms. There are have already been many fans pre-ordering tickets and I’ll be happy if we get 500 fans this time of year.”
Scheduling exhibition games has been challenging during this pandemic said Bragagnolo, due to ever changing regulations in different states, but he is hopeful he will be able to schedule more games in the upcoming months.
“We are still working on scheduling other games, possibly with Finlandia and Michigan State, they have a pretty good club team,” said Bragagnolo. “We could have played a lot of games with D3 schools from Wisconsin, but a lot of them are in bubbles starting January 3, a lot of them have a 3-week time frame before they play league games, so we have a hard time getting into there. We are games against Fairbanks, who are playing out of Minnesota, as the North American Hockey League starts later, and exploring other games and weekends to fill.”
Bragagnolo says the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League is hoping to get the league going in December, as they are following the Ontario Hockey League’s protocol. The reopening of the U.S/Canada border appears to be the biggest obstacle for the Eagles to play in the NOJHL this upcoming season.
“As we going along we will make plans accordingly,” said Bragagnolo. “We will probably know a lot more as far as the league is concerned and we will make plans accordingly. We are prepared to play through May, so it could be a very good year for our players as far as exposure. We play a lot of tough teams off the bat, and it’s good exposure to have these exhibition games and go right into league play.”
If the border does remain closed, preventing the Eagles to participate in the 2020-21 season, Bragagnolo says while he doesn’t want to think of that, there are options available.
“We will try to play exhibition games, which may be hard to do on weekends, but we are prepared to play on weekdays which may be hard, but we are prepared to do that.”
Bragagnolo said the Soo Eagles have received an invitation to play in Europe.
“We can go on a 10-day tour of Europe, to play 6-8 games,” said Bragagnolo. “We may look into that, but right now we are focused on the near future. I am confident the league will be able to play this season, we may have to start later, but the frustrating thing is the unknown and you aren’t able to get answers, every day is a new adventure. You wake up every morning and get ready to play hockey and hope for the best.”
You can hear the full interview with Bragagnolo on Monday, October 5 edition of “The Game” where you can find the podcast at thegamesportsshow.podbean.com. You can also find the show on several podcast sites, including Apple, Spodify, and Podtrail.
You can also catch next week’s games from Pullar Stadium on myhockeytv.com.
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