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Certainly there is a clear division between the men’s hockey program at Sault College and the local fan base.
It’s a connection that’s been missing since the Cougars became the only Canadian men’s team to win a national championship in the entire American Collegiate Hockey Association in spring 2019.
Since winning the Division 3 national title in their first season as members of the ACHA, the star-studded, locally-studded Cougars have since progressed to Division 2. But in the meantime, the adversary known as ‘Vid has been largely responsible for Sault College’s inability to maintain momentum or connect with fans and supporters in recent years.
Part of the problem was the international border closure, which prevented travel to and from Canada and the United States, and basically shut down the Cougars for a couple of years. However, those restrictions were eased last fall, and yet Sault College was unable to play a single home game over the course of the 2021-2022 season.
The Cougars have managed to play 15 regular-season games — including four across the St. Mary’s River against Lake Superior State University’s Lakers ACHA club team — but not a single one has been on home ice, as part of a Winning record of 8-4 -3.
One of the reasons for the lack of domestic activity is the way the ACHA is set up; Teams are responsible for planning their own games. For example, it’s up to Sault College to convince opposition schools from across the US ACHA to come here to play games.
And while Sault College committed to playing those 15 road games in the 2021-2022 season against various American schools, they couldn’t get a single team to play a single game in Sault, Ontario.
Oh, a few schools committed before the start of last season only to eventually cancel planned trips across the border to get here.
If the Cougars want any following from local hockey fans, sponsors, and advertisers, they better damn make sure they have firm commitments from American schools to go that route for the 2022-2023 season. And Mark Hebert, manager of hockey operations at Sault College, should also try to bring some Canadian schools here for exhibition play, perhaps programs from northern Ontario like the Nipissing University Lakers of North Bay.
Fair or not, it is Hebert’s responsibility to move beyond COVID and rebuild the Sault College men’s team in the eyes of fans, supporters and the media. From that corner, I’ve tried to do my part to give the Cougars as much coverage as possible, including an important story on this page dealing with the recent engagement of new recruit Pineshish Whiteduck at Sault College.
As a hockey writer—not to mention an alumna of Sault College—I aim to feature the Cougars regularly throughout the season, both in this section and on my weekly Hockey North Show on local radio station Eagle 95.1.
The Cougars have some good people on board as part of their coaching and recruiting team. I’ve never been turned down by Cougars chief scout Charly Murray or head coach Mike Hall when it came to writing a story or doing an interview related to Sault College’s men’s hockey program.
But with the video in the rearview mirror, Sault College needs to have a multi-game home game schedule in 2022-2023 for the Cougars to be properly recognized and supported as a local hockey team.