THUNDER BAY, Ont. – It’s been seven seasons since the Thunder Bay North Stars franchise has hoisted the Bill Salonen Cup emblematic of Superior International Junior Hockey League champions.
Prior to the lengthy span without winning a SIJHL title, the North Stars franchise won five Bill Salonen Cups in a seven-year run before that.
Looking to put an end to the current title drought is the club’s new head coach Rob Degagne.
Degagne was named the squads’ new bench boss in mid-May after a two-year stint guiding the Thunder Bay major midget Kings AAA program who competed in both the North American Prospects Hockey League and the Lakehead Junior Hockey League.
Coming off being named NAPHL under-18 coach of the year and guiding the Kings to an overall record of 47-19-2 in 2016-17, the Thunder Bay product will look to return the North Stars back to the upper echelon of the SIJHL.
Degagne had a very successful playing career in the Ontario Hockey League and also skated in the old International Hockey League before returning home to play for both the Thunder Bay Twins senior side and Thunder Bay Thunder Hawks of the then Colonial Hockey League after that before turning to coaching.
Now he offers his thoughts on the Thunder Bay North Stars in this the fifth of six SIJHL team Q&A previews.
SIJHL: What are your expectations for the club heading into the 2017-18 season?
ROB DEGAGNE: I always have high expectations for our club. We set internal goals and then discuss with the players, personnel goals. We realize that we’re in a rebuild situation, but we want to make the playoffs and compete for our championship. We want a spot in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup and from there and see what happens.
SIJHL: What are your thoughts on what you’ve seen from the team so far and what do you expect to see throughout the season?
RD: We’re a good skating team that really seems to have good focus and work ethic. If we continue to work at this and add a few pieces to the puzzle we will do great.
SIJHL: Who are a couple of returning players you expect big things from?
RD: Brad Thrower, Joe Newhouse, Avery Siau, Brendan Gillis, Troy Sherman and Charlie Corness are among the returning players who have experience and have great leadership qualities.
SIJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that you’ve been impressed with early on?
RD: Owen Belisle, Alex Erwin, Keegan Gerrie and acquired goalie Brandon Bodnar. Owen and Keegan both played for the minor midget Kings program last year and were both drafted to the OHL. Alex played midget AA with the Current River Comets. As for Bodnar he provides plenty of Jr. A experience.
SIJHL: What style of play do you expect to instill into the club?
RD: We want to be a hard-working team that can compete every night and can adjust to adversity.
SIJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season?
RD: We’ve had a great few weeks of practice leading into our opener Saturday in Hoyt Lakes vs. the Iron Rangers. We want to develop a culture that copies our team vision.
SIJHL: How have things progressed since you were named head coach of the North Stars?
RD: Since I’ve been with the North Stars, things have progressed well. There is a learning curve on how player recruitment works and getting up to speed with the ins and outs of Jr. A hockey. Overall things have been great and team president Scott Kellaway has been working with me and our other staff. We have a fantastic team working to make the team on the ice better.
SIJHL: What are you looking to build upon with the North Stars as coach?
RD: I’m really looking forward to getting a few games under our belt and building a strong program for this year and years to come.
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