The Southern Oregon Spartans went just 12-39 last year.
For fans who may fear more of the same struggles from the hockey franchise, first-year head coach Ken Hoey has this much to say: Forget about it.
The native New Yorker, who grew up in Long Island, is preaching Big Apple-sized toughness as he prepares the team for its season-opening home date with San Diego on Friday.
“I want the kids to be super aggressive,” the longtime leader said. “I don’t like sitting back and waiting for other teams to dictate the pace.”
Southern Oregon’s roster includes 15 forwards and four defensemen, headlined by returning defensive star Axel Low. The 6-foot-6 Stockholm native will work alongside D-man Michele Vignoll, who played for the Italian national team.
“Both of those guys are very skilled,” Hoey said. “They’ll be great on the power play.”
Joining the Spartans is 18-year-old forward Eric Vanderhoff, who recorded 106 points with the Skylands Kings of the North American 3 Hockey League last season.
He’ll be joined by returner Hayden Moistner, an Alaskan who had five goals and five assists in 13 matches with Southern Oregon last year.
Jerimiah Clark and Chris O’Shaughnessy are two of the Spartans’ three options at goalkeeper, but O’Shaughnessy is expected to miss a few matches as he awaits clearance from concussion protocol, Hoey said.
Erich Marschall (the youngest on the team at 16), Gavin Gallagher and Billy Hart are locals who made the cut.
The Idaho IceCats won the Western States Hockey League Northwest division with a 44-7 record last year. The Spartans took last, but the six-team conference has since changed. Southern Oregon, the Bellingham Blazers, the Seattle Totems and the West Sound Admirals now make up the division, and the Spartans will additionally face the Edson Aeros, Hinton Wildcats and Ontario Avalanche of Canada in league counters, Hoey said.
Southern Oregon kicks things off at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Sabers at The RRRink (1349 Center Drive, Medford). San Diego also had a forgettable 2017-18 campaign, finishing 5-46. Their three-match series will wrap up Sunday with a 1:30 p.m. finale.
The Spartans will host Seattle the following weekend and won’t hit the road until a meeting with the Totems on Oct. 25.
For its opening series, Southern Oregon won’t have three or four players (all defensemen) as they fulfill other commitments, Hoey said. He’ll shuffle his roster to adjust accordingly.
The regular season comes to a close on March 10, when Southern Oregon welcomes the Avalanche.
“It’s going to turn around I think,” Hoey said of the club bouncing back from last season. “I think it takes time, but we want a winning culture.”
Hoey’s history with coaching stretches 20 years at the junior and pro level. The 53-year-old Medford resident had coached the New York Bobcats and Long Island Royals prior to taking the Spartans gig. Before that, he had stints in Italy, Austria, North Dakota and Illinois.
Hoey replaced first-year coach Dennis Creighton.
“I came to the (Rogue Valley) and loved it and took the job,” he said.
Hoey played hockey at Kent State University before going pro himself.
Along with the hire of Hoey, Catherine Forst has taken over for Joseph Hedberg as general manager of the franchise. Hedberg will remain with the organization as a sales, marketing and event coordinator.
Hoey said he’s eager to see what Medford hockey is all about.
“I’m looking forward to ‘The Mad House,’” he said, referring to The RRRink’s nickname. “I’ve seen it on tape but can’t wait to see it for myself.”
Reach freelance writer Dan Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.