Head coach Mike Stanaway could hardly wait for the Southern Oregon Spartans’ first big test â€“ their first as new members of the Western States Hockey League â€“ against the leagueâ€™s defending champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads on Sept. 7 and 8.
â€œThatâ€™ll be a good measuring stick for us. Weâ€™ve improved defensively and weâ€™ve got an arsenal of firepower on the offensive side,â€ he said, in late August. â€œItâ€™ll be the WSHL champs, a very well-coached and good, solid Idaho program, taking on the Spartans, last yearâ€™s Northern Pacific League champs.â€
The Steelheads pulled off a come-from-behind win in the first game (3-2, after the Spartans held a 2-0 lead) and won 5-2 the second night.
Regardless of those preseason results, Stanaway believes this yearâ€™s Spartans are certainly upgraded from the 2011-12 edition.
â€œWe just finished camp and things are looking good. We had a pretty deep team last year, but weâ€™ve got a little more improvement at each position,â€ said Stanaway. â€œWe want to get better every year and be able to upgrade. Hopefully, that will show.â€
Along with the key veteran triumvirate of Connor Quinn, Nick DeSimone and Alex Oâ€™Leary, the defensive corps gets even deeper with the newcomers the Spartans have brought in.
Billy Vita is coming to the Spartans from the Alberta Junior Hockey League as a â€œbig, physical defenseman.â€
â€œI happened to see him skate in Madison (Wis.) at a showcase,â€ said Stanaway. â€œFor how big he is, he skates tremendously well.â€
Mike Kowicki is a northern Michigan product who played a regular shift for the Marquette Electricians Midget AAA team in the Northern Lakes Hockey League last year.
â€œHe plays just like Luke Nickels, the NORPAC Defensive MVP last year,â€ said Stanaway. â€œOffensively, heâ€™s gifted, and he has the speed to get back without missing a beat.â€
Up front, the Spartans are expecting some rousing encores from Tim Talty, Nick Stirmel and Anthony Golio.
Talty, a â€™92 from Tinley Park, Ill., announced in late August heâ€™ll be returning to the Spartans after scoring a combined 99 points in 45 regular season and playoff games in the NORPAC last year.
â€œ[Taltyâ€™s return] will obviously bring a boost of energy right into the lineup,â€ said Stanaway. â€œStirmel is a speedy winger who does a good job bringing the puck to the net, and Anthony was great for us last year. He really put his time and effort in this summer.â€
New recruits up front include some â€œterrific offensive playersâ€ such as Dan Doyle, Bobby Gervino and Pete Jorgensen (all formerly of the Chicago Bulldogs), Andrew Jarvis (St. Louis Frontenacs) and Max Rasmussen (Lake Erie Warriors Midget AAA).