Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League
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Rayside-Balfour CanadiansCaruso Club
Another injection of youth in Rayside-Balfour

Youth will be served with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians.

A little over a year ago, new team owner Mark Burgess entrusted the role of general manager to Jeff Forsyth, a familiar face certainly in local rinks, but one who was making the jump to GM for the very first time, all while still in his early forties.

Under his leadership, the Canadians mixed in a very healthy crew of first year NOJHL talent, with many players still 16, 17 or 18 years old, merging that talent with a core of veterans that would race to a first place finish in the West Division in 2019-2020.

Now, as the team looked to replace coach Dan Cuomo, a long-time Sudbury Wolves European scout and professional coach in his mid-sixties, the Canadians stuck with the game plan, getting younger, once again.

In new head coach Vagelli Sakellaris (40), assistants Jadran Beljo (33) and Bobby Chaumont (35), and goalie coach Eric Navarro (39), the local NOJHL team signalled their intention to stay the course, allowing young on-ice prospects and off-ice personel to cut their teeth in junior hockey.

All of which should not detract, in the least, to the impressive resumes that the Rayside coaching quartet have built up, over the years. "I've been fortunate, to be honest with you," said Sakellaris, who has worked on the staff of both the Canadians and the Espanola Express recently.

"I worked with Peter Michelutti (Jr), way back, with the midget AAA program. I learned a lot from him and was lucky enough to move on after that and work with Dave (Clancy). He taught me a lot about the game, especially at the NOJHL level."

"He was very open with me, allowed me to learn the business and managerial side. It was nice to pick his brain. He had a very methodical, experienced approach, and I think the kids really respected that."

"I worked under Steve Lauzon for a bit, and he's a polar opposite from Dave. Steve's a very god motivator, really manages to get the most that he can from the kids. I've been fortunate to work with different personalities, different coaching philosophies."

Sakellaris not only has coaching experience in the league, but is also an alumnus, having suited up with both the Sudbury Northern Wolves and the Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats prior to pursuing his current career in teaching.

With two young(ish) children at home (9 and 3), Sakellaris was thankful for the way of the world, at the moment, providing a little additional rationale to making the leap into his new role at this time.

"As a former player and coach, I think you always get those competitive juices flowing," he said. "This was another challenge, a special one with the honour of being the head coach. That was definitely a factor."

"But with the current situation (pandemic), it actually made it a better opportunity for me, given that there will be less travel. It's hard with a young family and my job to make it to Cochrane for a mid-week game."

"This will still be a big time commitment, but luckily for me, my wife is pretty understanding."

Returning from the 2019-2020 crew is Jadran Beljo, a veteran of more than 260 OHL games split between the Peterborough Petes, Mississauga Ice Dogs and London Knights. "The last couple of months of last year, before the league got shut down, I was fortunate enough to do some work with Rayside - and most of my dealings were with Jadran," said Sakellaris.

"Based on my interactions with him and how he broke down the game, it seems like we are on the same page on how we saw the video. Plus he brings some consistency to the dressing room, because he was there last year."

The relative newcomer to the coaching ranks is Bobby Chaumont, who completed his 13th year of professional hockey last winter with the Lindau EV Islanders in Germany. In fact, the bulk of the final decade of his playing days were largely in Europe (United Kingdom primarily), after the local ironman appeared in every single Wolves game (272 games in all) during his four year career from 2001 to 2005.

"Bobby and I played one year together with the Northern Wolves - my last year of junior hockey, and his only year in the NOJHL before enjoying success in the OHL," said Sakellaris. "I believe that we were dressing room partners (adjacent stalls), so I got to know Bobby quite well."

"It will be nice to draw on the playing experience of Bobby and Jadran."

Rounding out the group is Eric Navarro, a former draft pick of the Kitchener Rangers, and a part of the goaltending tandem that backstopped the Sabrecats to the RBC Cup final in 2001.

All four are expected to be on the ice this coming Monday (September 14th) at the T.M. Davies Community Arena in Walden, as Rayside-Balfour hosts their Skill Development and Conditioning camp in anticipation of a hopeful start to the season some time in October or November.

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