Eastern Hockey League team returns junior hockey to Green Mountain State
Vermont Lumberjacks excited about making their 2014-15 debut
By Joshua Boyd
It was an area starving for junior hockey, and who is Steve Lary to deny giving the people what they want?
Lary has founded the Vermont Lumberjacks team, which will operate in the Eastern Hockey League and in the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League. The Lumberjacks’ split-season U16 team will play in the Eastern Junior Elite Prospects League. All three teams will play at Burlington, Vt.’s Gordon H. Paquette Arena at Leddy Park. Three years ago, the Green Mountain Glades’ franchise in the former Eastern Junior Hockey League and Empire Junior Hockey League was sold to the Portland Jr. Pirates and moved to Maine’s largest city.
Vermont’s largest city missed its Glades. Sure, Burlington has the University of Vermont, and there are a number of Division 3 colleges in the area, but the departure of the Glades created a void between high school and college hockey. Burlington’s best talent began to flee the area. “People wanted to bring junior hockey back to Vermont. The hockey community is thrilled to have us back there,” said Lary, a part-time resident of New Hampshire, near the Vermont border. “There is a high caliber of player up there. We already have a tremendous outpouring of inquiries as to tryout camp and an interest in all three teams.
“I’m super-optimistic about our ability to compete next year and do really well,” added Lary.
The Lumberjacks are the newest tenant at Gordon H. Paquette Arena, located in Leddy Park, which also features an 1,800-foot beach on Lake Champlain. Coaching the team will be the former coaching staff for the Glades’ EJHL team, with Chris Line as head coach and Kerry Wiebe and Willi Rose joining him as assistants.
“By having Mr. Lary bring a team here, it’s a perfect storm,” said Line. “He’s a fantastic guy, and the league really respects how his organization is run. He’s been a valued member of the league, and I’m very excited with the opportunity to work with him and develop the local players.”
USA Hockey gave Lary its blessing at its Winter Meetings, and he had the full support of Vermont’s Affiliate Member Mauricio Rosales from the start.
“There’s a little buzz in the air, and certainly players are picking up on it. People were pleasantly surprised, and that buzz has grown now that there’s talk about tryouts,” said Rosales. “The excitement will continue to increase once the team is on the ice.”
Rosales said there was acute disappointment when the Glades junior team shut down (there is still a Vermont Glades youth organization).
“Vermont was the only New England Affiliate that didn’t have a junior team. Vermont is a great location,” said Rosales. “Along with several Division 1 and 3 colleges, we are also very close to Canada. Vermont is a great location for junior hockey.”
Rosales and Lary met in Vermont last fall, and Lary visited some of the facilities he was looking at to host his new team.
“He told us straightforward that he was looking to put a junior hockey team in Burlington and he was looking for support,” said Rosales. “He wanted to see what we in Vermont felt about it. We obviously greeted him with open arms.”
Mark Kumpel, commissioner of the Eastern Hockey League, is also happy to be working with Lary and to have an EHL team in the northwest corner of New England.
“Our league is thrilled to have a presence in the Vermont area next year. We are able to move to an area that once held a junior team that was a very successful franchise,” said Kumpel. “That team will be centrally located to seven or eight NCAA schools, so we’ll have more commitments in the area. It’ll be huge not just for the local kids, but for the players who are visiting.”
Along with UVM, there is also St. Michael’s College, Johnson State University, Castleton State University, Middlebury College, Norwich University and the State University of New York at (SUNY-)Plattsburgh just across Lake Champlain. Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., is not a long drive away, either.
Quality coaching from the start
Chris Line certainly understands the junior path to college. He’s been there and done that himself. A native of Essex Junction, a suburb of Burlington, Line played for the Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League. From there, he played four years at Clarkson University.
Out of college, Line went into the coaching ranks. His first coaching job was with the Glades’ Empire Junior Hockey League team. From there, he took an assistant coaching job at SUNY-Geneseo.
He was an assistant coach at Rochester Institute of Technology, his most recent college coaching job. Line was then hired as head coach for the Glades’ top team from 2009 to 2012.
His teams experienced a range of results, from not making the EJHL playoffs one year to reaching the quarterfinals in the Glades’ last year, 2011-12.
Since the Glades were sold, Line has become certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a strength and conditioning coach. He’s been working with players from high school, prep school and juniors to college and NHL.
“I’m also a power skating instructor. With that, in addition to being a strength coach, it could facilitate both the on-and off-ice development of our players,” said Line. “Kids these days are putting in the time and effort to get to that next level. You have to be as good off the ice as you are on the ice to separate yourself from other players.”
Wiebe was alongside Line for each of his three years as head coach. Wiebe and his wife run a private chiropractic practice in the area, and both will operate as the Lumberjacks’ certified athletic trainers.
Wiebe started out coaching at the high school level in his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta.
“I’m very familiar with him and he’s very familiar with me. His knowledge on the ice is the main reason he’s a part of this, along with his ability to help our guys off the ice,” said Line. “That only benefits his position more.”
Willi Rose is finishing his final semester at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minn.
“He was a player of mine in my first year with the Glades. He’s been doing a great job of getting out to the high schools and recruiting,” said Line. “He’ll be our main recruiter throughout the season. When we’re at home, he’ll be on the ice for practices and on the bench for games.”
“They’ve had a lot of success in the past in the EJHL, and they’re all excited about getting back into junior hockey coaching,” said Lary of the coaches, each of whom lives in Burlington.
“I look at it as, over the last five months, [Lary] has gained an understanding of the coaching level that it takes to have success at this level,” added Kumpel.
Line and his coaches are already busy recruiting and have already secured some commitments for tryouts.
“They were either playing prep hockey or they were in Midget programs outside of Vermont,” said Line. “Now, having this local option, they can come home, stay here and develop while helping to drive the younger players who are coming up.”
Former Glades Empire players Tucker Cobb and Teddy Marshall, both of whom were playing for the Boston Junior Bruins U18 team, will be at tryouts.
They are also spreading the word around town to local high school players, but the Lumberjacks are not interested in poaching talent from the high school teams.
“Steve Lary really wants to come in here and be part of the community, to work hand in hand with high schools to offer an alternative when a player finishes his senior year,” said Line. “Along with our EHL and Metropolitan League teams, we also have the split-season U16 team for freshmen and sophomores coming out of the Glades youth organization.”
The half-season model allows players to play travel hockey until November and then play for their high school teams.
Ready to take the ice
The Lumberjacks will hold their tryouts at Leddy Park over the May 2-4 weekend (full details and registration are available on their website www.vermontlumberjacks.com).
That will be the start of not only a whole new age for Vermont hockey, but for the Eastern Hockey League as well. There will be 19 teams on the ice in 2014-15.
Along with the teams that took the ice for this past inaugural season, the Lumberjacks will also be joined by the New England Wolves in Waterville Valley, N.H., and the East Coast Wizards in Bedford, Mass.
“Steve is one of the most enthusiastic owners and is moving into the area where he believes his team can have great success,” said Kumpel. “He is committed to support it to make it one of the premier franchises in the EHL.”
They’re bringing this high brand of hockey to one of the best rinks in the Burlington area.
Gordon H. Paquette Arena at Leddy Park is always busy, and rink manager Melissa Cate is excited to make the arena one of the top places to be on a weekend night in the Burlington area.
“It’s terrific. We’re really excited,” said Cate. “We had some home games for the Glades, and we were the practice facility. We’re enthusiastic about bringing junior hockey back. Steve’s a great guy to work with, he’s very professional.”
The Lumberjacks logo and the EHL logo will soon be on the ice and the rink is making other modifications for their new tenants.
“Fortunately, the Glades made a big investment in their locker room here the year before they left,” said Cate. “We are doing some renovations to accommodate the [Metropolitan League] team, but no huge changes.”
Along with the Lumberjacks, Leddy Park (with a capacity of 1,100 fans) is home to the Burlington and Colchester high school teams and the Burlington Amateur Hockey Association’s youth program.
“[Gordon H. Paquette Arena] is thrilled to have us back there,” said Lary. “Melissa Cate has been incredibly obliging.”
Rosales hopes this will stop an outflow of the top Vermont players.
“It not only gives another option for Vermont players who were going away to play out of state,” said Rosales, “but it fills a hole in New England. We’re about three hours from Boston, and that’s not far. It’s good to have another junior team in the Northeast.”