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Preparing for a season of 2020-2021 hockey

Though they might not agree on everything, the three local minor hockey associations with the largest delegation of competitive teams are in absolute lockstep when it comes to making plans for the 2020-2021 season.

Over the course of the past month or so, almost thirty head coaching assignments have been doled out by the trio of organizations that includes the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association, Nickel City Hockey Association, and the Sudbury and District Girls Hockey Association.

And while tracking the flow becomes a tad trickier next year, given the Hockey Canada mandated move away from the historical divisional nomenclature that had become the norm (moving from atom/peewee/bantam/midget to U11/U13/U15/U18), the listings do provide a very interesting mix of the old and the new.

The NCHA posted far and away the largest list, with no less than 19 folks accepted into their ranks, with a breakdown, as follows:

AAA teams
Major Bantam (U15) - Samantha Stortini
Minor Bantam (U14) - Corey Schiewek
Major Peewee (U13) - Jason Young
Minor Peewee (U12) - Brad McCoy

AA teams - Jr Sons
Major Bantam (U15) - Terry Portelance
Minor Bantam (U14) - Guy Myre
Major Peewee (U13) - Jason Rietze
Minor Peewee (U12) - Al Chenier
Major Atom (U11) - Joel Belanger
Minor Atom (U10) - Joey Talbot

A teams and novices
Major Bantam (U15) - Nicholas Dombek
Minor Bantam (U14) - Corey Fletcher
Major Peewee (U13) - Lee Rinaldi
Minor Peewee (U12) - Adam Brouse
Major Atom West (U11) - Mitch Makasoff
Major Atom East (U11) - Yves Gervais
Novice East (U9) - Scott Ginson
Novice Central (U9) - Ben Robichaud
Novice West (U9) - Rob Dubois

"We've been having bi-weekly meetings for the past month or so with the NOHA, who have been in touch with the OHF (Ontario Hockey Federation) and Hockey Canada on a pretty much daily basis," noted NCHA president Scott Rienguette. "We are hopeful that hockey of some sort will resume in September."

With a grouping that includes both parent and non-parent coaches, Rienguette outlined the thinking of his crew when it came to the selection of successful applicants. "As you can imagine, we've had many discussions on this topic, with a few different points of view," he said.

"As a board, we truly feel that it should be the best coach, the coach who has the most to give to the 17 players, who is going to be best for that team. It didn't seem to make sense moving a very qualified coach whose son clearly deserves to be on the team in favour of a less qualified coach, just because they do not have a kid on the team."

At this point, the NCHA did not announce a coaching staff at the midget (U18) age bracket, holding on-going discussions with SMHA officials in terms of deciding how best to service a division that has struggled to produce a large spectrum of prospects interested in still playing AAA of AA hockey in recent years.

"We have not withdrawn the request for the (players) cards, but we're not sure that it's going to come to fruition this year, in part due to everything that is going on right now," said Rienguette.

Confirming that a sense of cooperation with the NCHA has proved fruitful, through these turbulent times, SMHA president Peter Michelutti Jr outlined his board's thought process in making public the awarding of five teams to Al Cross (U12 AAA), Mike MacDonald (U13 AAA), Peter Michelutti Jr (U14 AAA), Trevor Blanchard (U15 AA) and Brian Dickinson (U18 AAA).

"One of the main reasons that we decided to post coaches and staffs that we had selected is that we had started the process prior to the season ending due to Covid-19," said Michelutti. "We had done most of the interviews, and then completed the last few through conference calls and Zoom meetings."

"Even though there is still a lot of unknown, there is still a fair bit of planning that has to go into this coming year."

Michelutti also confirmed that the SMHA expects to have a decision in place sometime in May with regards to the Minor Midget (U16) AAA head coach. "We don't want to rush things right now, as we do have a few applications that we are going through," he said. "What we decided to do, as a board, was to take the initiative to register this team to a few of the top end tournaments (Early Bird / Wendy Dufton - London / International Silver Stick)."

At this point, though the SDGHA have limited their announcements to solely their top end team in each age bracket, there is no lack of fresh faces to be found among the five hockey mentors who have been tapped, to date: Andre Brunette (U18 AA), Jason Stos (U15 AA), Mike Paul (U13 AA), Chris Miller (U11 A) and Greg MacMillan (U21 A).

Though Brunette has been coaching for some 18 years now, this will be his first shot at the SDGHA flagship program. "When my kids were younger, I really liked coaching a team as a non-parent," he said. "I just thought that with my daughter heading to university and my son deciding not to play next year, I would have a little more time."

"I missed it and wanted to get back in, and I've always wanted to have one of the top teams, so this is a great opportunity," noted Brunette, who has worked with both boys and girls teams, from novice to AAA midget, before stepping back from the scene during the 2019-2020 campaign.

Stos has not sat on the sidelines since returning to Sudbury following a short stint in pro hockey in the mid to late 1990's, though this is his first foray into the girls' game, while Paul brings both a personal and family connection to the sport, with sibling Rebecca Paul having moved on from the Lady Wolves' ranks, almost 20 years ago, to suit up for two years of NCAA competition.

"I've coached hockey, ringette, soccer every summer, floor hockey - everything that my girls would do, I've helped in some way, shape or form," said Paul. "My wife and I are big proponents of the value of sports for the girls, the friendships, the life lessons."

And though he will make the jump from having worked with his eldest (McKinley) and her bantam house league crew to a rep team that will feature Gracie (four years younger) and her cohorts, the long-time Valley resident is confident with his game plan in tackling the transition.

"The biggest thing for me is that I want the girls to be able to settle in with the speed of the game, at that level," said Paul. "If you can't skate, it's really hard to compete with a team that can skate."

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