NOJHL team season preview: Soo Eagles

SUDBURY, Ont. – The Soo Eagles are busily preparing for their 2019-20 Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League season opener Saturday as they pay a visit across the border to take on their long-time rival, the Soo Thunderbirds.

Back for a second year as the Eagles head coach, Doug Laprade looks build on a 28-24-3-1 record the club posted during the last campaign.

The Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., side definitely improved as the previous campaign went along, playing .700 hockey since January 1 while finishing up with a 13-5-2 mark in their final 20 outings.

Now, with a key core or returning players and a stable influx of newcomers, the Eagles will look to soar this season.

Here’s some insight from coach Laprade on what he has seen and expects to witness from his club in this, the ninth NOJHL team season preview Q&A session.

NOJHL: What are your expectations for the club heading into the 2019-20 season?

DOUG LAPRADE: My expectations are that we have a very strong start and continually get better as the season progresses.

NOJHL: Give us your thoughts on the club as you near the start of your second season year behind the Eagles bench.

DL: I’m happy with where our club is at the beginning of the season. We have 14 veteran players that have played for the Soo Eagles in the past and with that I believe we should be able to get off to a pretty strong start.

NOJHL: Who are a couple of returning players you look to be play a pivotal role on the club in 2019-20?

DL: We look for goaltender Shane Brancato, and Kyle Quinn, Dominic Skrelja, Caleb Wood and Jake Lamberty up front all to have good years. Brancato had a strong second half in net, winning six straight starts at one point and finishing up at 9-2-1. Skrelja and Wood were both top five scorers for us as rookies while Quinn chipped in with 14 goals and 20 assists. Lamberty is a great skater, a very good two-way player and penalty killer and had a dozen goals and set-up 13 more. He’s a definite leader of our team.

NOJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that you expect to perform well in the league?

DL: Forward Bobby Price played most recently Cleveland AAA and was a member of the 2017-18 Soo Eagles team. He was a first team all-state Michigan high school player the year before that. Defenceman Steve Smoody is six-foot-four, 220 pounds who played for the Chicago Young Americans. He’s a good skating physical player. Another big, strong, physical veteran D-man we acquired is Malik Ali. He played in Manitoba Junior Hockey League last season.

NOJHL: Talk about the parity in the NOJHL these days, that included for the first time in league history, nine teams in the league posting 25 wins or more last season.

DL: I believe this league has improved immensely over the last three to four seasons. Each team has very good players; whether being young OHL draft picks or older veterans that are being groomed for the NCAA, that are big and strong. Each team is also very well coached and every game is a challenge.

NOJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season?

DL: My goal is to have a strong start, and then to get better as the season progresses. Last year we had mostly new players at the start of the season and our start showed that. This year, I expect with the 14 veteran players that we have, to have a very good start.

NOJHL: What are one or two early highlights in your time with the Eagles?

DL: My time with this team has been short, however I am impressed with the work ethic of a lot of our kids. It got them to improve throughout the season. I’m also impressed with how each game, day in and day out, is a challenge based on how good the other teams’ players and coaches are.