August 10, 2016
The faces of the franchise have changed from the players on the ice to the men making the decisions, all part of a master plan designed to make the Blind River Beavers competitive again.
To be sure, it’s been a while since Blind River has been any sort of a force within the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
Since posting winning records in six of seven seasons between the 2004-2005 and the 2010-2011 campaigns, the Beavers have had five straight losing years.
The most-recent disasters have seen the Beavers go winless through the entire 2014-2015 season and then win just 10 of 54 games in 2015-2016 en route to missing the playoffs.
Obviously, sweeping changes had to be made.
And they began shortly after the ’15-16 season ended for the Beavers when the reputable Kyle Brick was lured from his assistant coaching position with the powerhouse Soo Thunderbirds and hired as head coach with player personnel control in Blind River.
The 30-year old Brick then hired Dylan King, a former Ontario Hockey League defenseman with the Soo Greyhounds, as an assistant coach and brought in Craig MacDonald as assistant general manager. Brick, King and MacDonald are close friends of each other and all three hail from Thessalon, which is about 30 miles west of Blind River along Highway 17.
Also on board as part of the new-look Beavers came a vintage collection of old hockey warhorses.
Sault Ste. Marie resident Charly Murray, who has spent parts of five decades in junior hockey, returned to Blind River as senior advisor and scouting director.
Assisting Murray in the scouting area are three of his hand-picked associates — David Legree, (retired) Colonel Michael Carr and Jim Thomas.
Legree, a former standout OHL goalie with the Soo Greyhounds from 1974 to 1976, will scout the mid-west United States for the Beavers while based in Sioux City, Iowa.
Carr is a former NOJHL assistant coach/off-ice trainer with both the Soo Eagles and erstwhile Northern Michigan Black Bears.
Thomas is a former hockey coach at Sault College with scouting connections in the Sudbury and Manitoulin areas.
Murray, who also has a prior association with Blind River among other NOJHL teams, said Carr will scout the Florida area for the Beavers. Thomas, on the other hand, will assist Murray with his recruiting duties.
But Murray wasn’t done with the three oldsters when assembling his scouting staff.
He then added youth by bringing in Jerry Lortie Jr., who is the son of Murray’s old friend, the late Jerry Lortie Sr.
Lortie Sr. was a well-respected former NOJHL coach with the erstwhile Northern Michigan Black Bears. Murray worked alongside Lortie Sr. with the old Black Bears as both an assistant coach and a scout.
As for the younger Lortie, he has a lengthy and reputable background in hockey as an assistant coach with the Soo Thunder minor midgets.
Moving forward, the hockey department was on hand last weekend to oversee the Beavers main camp that was held in Sault Ste. Marie.
And Brick, as the new head coach, liked what he saw.
“We were impressed with the compete level and the speed of the games and practices,” Brick began. “There were some surprises…kids who are going to end up sticking with this team. The coaching staff and scouts were all impressed with the quality of players.”
Brick sees better days ahead for the Beavers this season.
“I believe the organization and the on-ice product are heading in the right direction and were excited to get started,” he told HockeyNewsNorth.com while noting that he expects only about six players back from the 2015-2016 edition of the Beavers.
“We have moved some players out,” he said evenly. “Mediocrity is no longer acceptable.”
Veteran scout Murray, meanwhile, likes the caliber of players that the Beavers have thus far signed.
“I have been around a long time and been to a lot of main camp tryouts with a lot of teams,” said Murray. “I think the good people of Blind River are going to be very happy with this edition of the Beavers.”
PHOTO: The new-look Blind River Beavers hockey staff includes (left to right) scout Jerry Lortie, head coach Kyle Brick and senior advisor/scouting director Charly Murray. (Photo by Cara Russon.)