The Midget ‘AA' Northeast Panthers will be playing under new head coach Mike Pasichnuk, in the Northern Alberta Midget Hockey League (NAMHL) this season.
The Panthers previously played in the Regional Alberta Midget Hockey League (RAMHL). As more teams continued to fold and travel increased, the league finally folded.
The new league has 24 teams within closer proximity of each other, as opposed to the long travel of the eight-team RAMHL.
Although the NAMHL is touted as double A whereas the RAMHL was triple A, Northeast Panthers manager Grant Ferby believes the calibre of hockey will remain high.
“The league will be just as competitive, it will have some of the same strong teams,” explains Ferby.
Ferby also hopes his coach can be competitive in a new league. “[Mike] has been a long time minor hockey coach in Bantam double A, now he is willing to take the step up and try midget double A”
“It's a big commitment,” added Ferby.
Coach Pasichnuk is excited for the opportunity and is looking forward to the season ahead. “I'm pretty excited, the idea had crossed my mind several times before; they're [the Panthers] a team known around the league.”
The Panthers are known around the league because of their recent success. They won the league championship two seasons ago. However, last year their record dipped below .500, which is something Pasichnuk looks to improve upon.
He is looking to improve the Panthers record in a new league, for himself and the team. “It's going to be exciting to see what a team from an area like this can do against some of these new teams.”
Coming from bantam double A to midget double A, Pasichnuk acknowledges, “the pace will be faster, there is more heads up play, and it takes a complete team effort each night.” But he admits the toughest part of coaching at this level will be “getting kids to stay and play locally.” The coach says that keeping players can sometimes be difficult because “they can get lured to triple A hockey.”
Despite that, he says he is looking forward to training camp and tryouts, as he expects at least 40 players to arrive at camp. From those 40, Pasichnuk will have to cut down the roster to 17 skaters and two goalies, in the hopes of creating the strongest team possible.
“I look for heart, hustle and hard work from my players,” says Pasichnuk. “If we can get everyone firing on all cylinders every game, we can be successful.”
The official start to the Panthers 2010-11 season will be player registrations and tryouts, which will take place this Friday, Sept. 10.