The ‘24 in 24’ series features an in-depth look into all 24 NAHL teams, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Saturday, September 8th.
‘24 in 24’ will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interview with all 24 NAHL head coaches as they prognosticate and break down their outlook for the upcoming season.
Port Huron Fighting Falcons
The 2011-12 version of the Port Huron Fighting Falcons was one of the more remarkable turnaround stories in NAHL history. From a league-low six wins from the season before, the Fighting Falcons put together a reversal of fortune for the ages last season as they won the North Division’s regular season and playoff titles, and advanced to the Robertson Cup Tournament.
It was certainly something that few saw coming, but after the Fighting Falcons opened the season with a 3-0-2 record, the rest of the NAHL was put on notice. One of the reasons Port Huron was so successful was their consistency. They never lost more than three games in a row the entire season and never had below a .500 record. They also had two players named to the NAHL All-North Division team, five players commit to NCAA schools and head coach Bill Warren was named as NAHL Coach of the Year.
However, despite all the success, the winds of change blew through Port Huron in the off-season and in late May, head coach Bill Warren resigned. Enter new head coach and general manager Steve Shannon. Shannon, who has had previous professional hockey head coaching experience in the now defunct United Hockey League (UHL), said that he was ready to take on the task of coaching at the NAHL level.
“Although I have coached at the professional level, junior hockey is much more of a level where you have to practice skills on a constant and consistent basis. These players are still learning and a coach has to make sure that he has to constantly work on skill development. You also have to have a short memory because players are going to make mistakes and you want them to learn from those mistakes.”
The Falcons held their main camp a few weeks ago and Shannon indicated that between 10-11 players that were on last year’s North Division Championship team are expected to return to this year’s Fighting Falcons team. “I think that the guys who were here last year will come into the season with a certain hunger for more success,” said Shannon. “They had a remarkable season last year and I know that after getting so close to a Championship, they will have the desire to give it another run. I think the important thing to remember for these players is that this is just the start of what is hopefully a great hockey career.”
As for what type of team Shannon is looking for, he said he has three main rules for his players. “First, I want players to be on time. Second, I want them to work hard. Lastly, I want them to have fun,” said Shannon. “We want to build a team with speed, quickness, physicality and guys who can get pucks to the net. I also want a team that plays at a high tempo and plays with a lot of puck control. We want to possess the puck more than our opponents and that involves players making the right kind of decisions with the puck. I think if we can do all that, we will be successful.”
As for who will be looked upon on the roster for leadership and productivity, Shannon indicated that it starts with the veteran players. Players such as Cody Polin, Ian Miller and Rick DeRosa will all be back and all expected to contribute offensively. Miller (26 goals) and Polin (24 goals) were first and second in goal scoring respectively last season and should be able to improve those goal totals this season. “I think with that core group of veteran forwards we should be able to generate a lot of offense and score goals,” said Shannon. Swedish forward Daniel Rehnstrom should also be able to contribute and rookie Mark Evan Auk has already had some NCAA Division I interest.
In goal, the Fighting Falcons have a solid veteran goaltender in Max Milosek. Milosek split time last season with Peter Megariotis (who is off to NCAA Division I Ohio State). Shannon said that having Milosek in goal will be a huge plus for the team.
Lastly, Shannon remarked that he and the entire organization’s primary focus is on moving this year’s group of players onto the next level. “I think that moving players onto the next level supersedes winning. I think if we are doing the right things to help players develop and move on, then the winning will take care of itself,” said Shannon. “If we play the right way and do things the right way, winning will be a bi-product of all that, but advancement is imperative. We are going to go out of our way to make sure that scouts have all the access, information and support they need when they are scouting our players.”
Next up in the NAHL 24 Teams in 24 Days series, the Odessa Jackalopes.