Soo Eagles looking to return to playoff perch this season

By Jim den Hollander
This is the fourth of seven off season looks at the different junior leagues under the umbrella.
A young Soo Eagles team took its share of learning lumps this past season and ultimately missed out on the post season.

The lone US-based team in the Canadian Tier 2 Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Eagles formerly played in the NAHL. They missed the playoffs with a fifth place showing in the seven-team West Division.
Also included in the West Division is primary rival, the Soo Thunderbirds, from the Canadian side of the International Bridge, the Greater Sudbury Cubs, Blind River Beavers, Elliot Lake Red Wings and Espanola Paper Kings.
After crossing the International bridge, teams in the West Division are all located along 17 between the Soo and Sudbury.
The six East division teams: Timmins Rock, Hearst Lumberjacks, Powassan Voodoos, French River Rapids, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Cochrane Crunch, mostly along Ontario’s Highway 11.
Despite a late season rally that saw the team winning four of its final five games, the Eagles finished under .500 and out of the post season for the first time since 2015-16 season (not including 2020-21, during the COVID epidemic as it was impossible to cross the border).

Offensively, the Eagles were led in 2022-23 by Jack Mortson (’02/Westland, MI) with 32 goals and 67 points in 58 games. Chase Tallaire (’02/St. Ignace, MI) also appeared in all 58 games, scoring 21 goals and collecting 55 points.
In goal, Logan Raffaele (’02/Sault Ste. Marie, MI) handled a bulk of the work in the blue paint, appearing in 38 games with a record of 13-14-2-1. He had a sharp .908 Save Percentage and a Goals Against Average of 3.33.
Raffaele was recognized as Goaltender of the Month for the NOJHL in September, 2022, getting his season off to a solid start with three wins, no losses and just two goals against, including his first NOJHL shtutout. He came out of the opening month with a 0.67 Goals Against Average and a .978 Save Percentage while facing an average of 27 shots per game.
Coby Fox (’03/BowMar, CO), a six-foot, 190 lbs. defenseman was named as one of the three Eastlink Players of the Week for the Eagles March 13.
According to the league report, “The reliable Eagles blueliner also chipped in with multiple points over the weekend helping his side collect a pair of home ice victories.
“Featured in his offensive production was supplying his first NOJHL game-winning goal in a narrow 3-2 win over Powassan.
Eligible to return, Fox could be among the cornerstone pieces to help the Eagles get back to the post season.
Mortson also earned a Player of the Week honor on Oct. 3, 2022 after playing a part in six of seven goals scored in two weekend contests.
“He scored once and helped set up two others in a narrow road setback at Greater Sudbury then tallied twice including the game winner and added an assist in a win at Espanola,” said the league report.
At the time, with the league heading into its Showcase event, Mortson was riding a five-game points streak.
The Eagles are heading into its main tryout camp this weekend and league play will see the first of several meetings against the rival Thunderbirds, this time in Ontario.
Eagles play home games at the prestigious Pullar Community Building constructed in 1939. Sharing the rink is the Lake Superior State University Lakers along with youth hockey, the local figure skating club and Soo Indians AAA hockey squads.

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