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Southern Oregon Spartans head coach Mike Stanaway goes over a drill in practice Tuesday at The RRRink. - Jamie Lusch

Spartans not satisfied

Odds are, you probably didn't have the same woodshop teacher or share a U.S. history class with these Southern Oregon Spartans.

Medford's newest batch of hockey talent may not be from around here, but the young men — flown in from places as far away as Sweden — are eager to ingratiate themselves with the citizens of the Rogue Valley.

In fact, they want to make Medford the city of champions.

"Our goal, plain and simple, is to win the league, to take the crown from Seattle and place it on our own head," says Mike Stanaway, Southern Oregon's first-year head coach. "That is what we built this team for and we have a championship-caliber club. Making the playoffs isn't enough for us."

And Stanaway, who was born and raised in Michigan, has good reason to believe. His job is to lead a skilled roster of Tier III Junior A players, who range in age from 16 through 20. Most of the athletes hail from other states: eight are from Illinois, four from Wisconsin and California, two from Michigan and Oregon and one from Colorado, Delaware and Texas.

Oh, and two are from Sweden, adding a coat of international intrigue to the American ice.

"I traveled all over the country this year recruiting players," says Stanaway, who took over for Steve Chelios. Chelios abruptly resigned as head coach and general manager late last season following the arrest of an assistant coach in a marijuana scandal.

Four players return from the 2010 roster, which produced the franchise's best season to date. Veteran forwards Dane Irving and Jake Sexton, who are both from Medford, are back along with defensemen Antonio Vargas (Upland, Calif.) and Brandon Bronze (Mather, Calif.).

Last season, Irving tallied 29 goals and 28 assists for Southern Oregon, which compiled a 39-18 record and advanced to — and won — its first-ever playoff series before ultimately falling short in the second round of the NORPAC Junior Hockey League playoffs.

The Spartans clinched second in the Pacific Division with a 36-14 record and defeated the Eugene Generals — whom Southern Oregon hosts in its season opener tonight — 3-1 in a best-of-five series to kick off the playoffs.

The champion Seattle Totems then swept Southern Oregon in the second round. Still, for a franchise that won just 12 games its first three seasons, 2010 marked a watershed season for the Spartans.

So who are the team's other standouts? Difficult to say, Stanaway says. He maintains the team has a lot of them. Swedish forwards Linus Persson and Karl Trogens and Tim Talty of Tinley Park, Ill., are all scoring threats, along with Irving, who has played for the team for four years.

"It's nice because with our team we have four lines that are dressing per night that can put the puck in the net," says Stanaway, who most recently served as head coach of the Central Wisconsin Saints of the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League. "Every line has guys who are offensively dynamic."

Three exhibition games earlier this month against teams from the Western States Hockey League gave Southern Oregon added confidence.

Spartan forward Sam Holeczy led the way in scoring with two goals and two assists, and goaltender Josh Pettoruto was credited with the win as the Spartans beat the Park City Jr. Moose, 10-3.

Forward Nick Picicci netted three goals and goalie Derek Moser earned the first victory of his junior career in Southern Oregon's 10-4 win over the Ogden Mustangs.

And against the Idaho Jr. Steelheads, who were ranked third in the nation and advanced to last year's USA Hockey National Championship semifinals, Spartan defenseman Matt Pipkins registered two goals in a close 6-5 loss.

"I think with the preseason games, it was really important for us to get our timing down and get used to playing with each other," Stanaway says. "I think we showed we've got a team that can put the puck in the net."

The Spartans and Generals square off at 7:35 tonight at The RRRink (1349 Center Drive, Medford).

The season consists of 48 regular season games, with qualifying teams advancing to the NORPAC playoffs and USA Hockey National Championships.

General admission tickets are $10, students with identification get in for $6 and children who are 5 or younger get in free. For ticket information and options, call 541-282-8430. For more information on the team, visit www.sospartans.com or www.facebook.com/southernoregonspartans.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

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