Mike Hall took little time to answer a question posed to him Wednesday.
“This is the most-talented team we’ve had since I started coaching the North Stars,” said Hall, speaking at a John Rhodes Community Complex press conference, organized to launch plans for the 2013 TELUS Cup.
With the North Stars serving as host team, Canada’s national midget championship tournament is slated for Apr.22-28 at Essar Centre.
Tickets are on sale beginning Thursday, Sept. 13.
“We want to win a TELUS Cup. That’s the end goal,” added Hall, who took over as head coach of the city’s AAA midget entry, then known as Soo Legion, in time for the 1993-94 season. “But talent doesn’t beat hustle.”
That cautionary note aside, Hall can’t help but like what he sees on his 2012-2013 roster.
In their quest for a national title, the North Stars are returning 13 players, including five who’ve been drafted by Ontario Hockey League teams.
Because of that talent, Hall said this year’s club, for the first time in roughly 20 years, is going with an 18-player roster.
Typically, the North Stars have carried 19 players.
Hall spoke of the character in his team’s dressing room.
“Lots of them could have played junior,” the coach said of his charges. “But they wanted to represent their city in a national championship. You always hope to get 13 returnees and we’re appreciative of that.”
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’ll be a great experience,” said 16-year-old centre Anthony Stefano, a fifth-round pick of the OHL’s Peterborough Petes this year.
Due to the death of his grandfather, the five-foot-10, 175-pounder didn’t attend the Petes training camp.
Stefano, who finished third in the Great North Midget League in scoring last season with 30 goals and 40 assists, said he’s still considering options – both with the Petes and with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) schools.
“I’m very excited,” he said of the prospect of playing in a six-team, national championship tourney. “I think if we work hard and come together as a team, we should be right there.”
Seventeen-year-old right-winger Ryan Vendramin said the opportunity to play in such a prestigious event helped lure him back to the Sault.
A 13th-round pick of the Sarnia Sting this year, Vendramin said he was one of the last cuts at the Sting training camp.
But, without a contract offer from the team, he decided to come home.
“I would have stayed if I’d had a contract,” he said. “It was a tough decision to come back. But we have a great team and I want to do well in a national championship. I want to represent my team and my city.”
Vendramin, who believes he can develop just as much playing AAA midget as he could in the junior ranks, tied for the GNML scoring crown a year ago.
He scored 30 times and assisted on 51 others for 81 points.
While the OHL remains an option, the six-foot-three, 175-pounder also spoke of eventually playing collegiate hockey south of the border.
North Stars general manager George Parsons, who joins Mike Murphy as co-chairs of the TELUS Cup, announced that the Sault’s Marty Turco will serve as tournament ambassador.
Turco, who was absent due to other commitments Wednesday, finished last season with the NHL’s Boston Bruins.
A Soo Legion (North Stars) alumnus, Turco, who won a bronze medal in this tourney in 1993, will be on hand for next year’s seven-day event. The TELUS Cup was known as the Air Canada Cup when Turco played.
Parsons also reminded those in attendance that the Sault played host to 2003 national championship, staged at old Memorial Gardens.
“There haven’t been too many cities who’ve been awarded this tournament twice,” added Murphy. It shows how much confidence Hockey Canada has in this city.”
As part of their responsibility as hosts, the local group must come up with $500,000, based on both ticket sales and local sponsorships. A sponsorship drive is scheduled to begin today.
Hockey Canada is responsible for a similar amount.
“That’s more (financially) than any other local event has pursued,” noted Murphy, who said the Sault group is also pursuing government grants.
“And all monies generated (as profit) go into a legacy fund to benefit minor hockey in the Sault,” Parsons added. “We’re confident (the $500,000) can be achieved.”
The goal, Murphy said, is to sell 3,500 tournament passes.
Cost for the passes, which offer entry into every tournament game, are $40 if purchased prior to the end of this year.
The cost will increase in the new year.
Day passes and single-game tickets will also be available.
All tickets must be purchased online at www.hockeycanada.ca/tickets.
Hall was asked how important playing at home will be for his charges.
“It’s always a little harder playing at home,” Hall offered. “You’ve got a lot of people watching. Our kids will have a little more pressure playing at home. But they’ll have more support, too.”