MASSENA — Everything is on track to bring junior hockey back to the north country according to Bill Plante, the general manager and coach of the Northern New York Junior Gamblers.
The Gamblers will begin play in the International Junior Hockey League (IJHL) this coming September. The IJHL is for players age 16-20 with the goal of preparing them for college or other junior hockey.
"Everything is going well. We're working on signing kids right now," Plante said. "We'll probably have five or six Russians, a lot of Canadians and we even signed a kid from Japan who came all the way here for our tryout."
The league consists of 12 teams, including the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, which recently came on board, with two divisions of six teams.
The Gamblers will hold a 10-day camp just after Labor Day at the St. Lawrence Centre Arena in Massena and begin their 60-game regular-season schedule in mid-September. Prior to that, a two-day mini-camp will be held in August.
"The schedule is being finalized this week," Plante said.
The Gamblers will play home games at the Centre and the season includes 40 league games as well as 20 nonleague games, possibly versus schools like SUNY Canton, Northwood Prep, North Country Community College and certain college JV teams.
"The whole idea of the league is the promotion and development of kids," said Plante, who racked up more than 500 career wins at Salmon River Central as the state's winningest high school coach before staying in the sport as an assistant coach and scout with a Native American team in Quebec, and teaching at various hockey schools.
"If they play for us for one year and then move on to the U.S. Hockey League or to a Division I college team, that's a good thing. That's the whole idea," Plante said.
"I expect to see players on the team from the north country, but no area high schools will be raided. They can try out for this team after they graduate," he added.
The Warriors' schedule includes several "Showcase" events where league members converge at one site to compete. The IJHL, recently featured in USA Junior Hockey magazine, has been around since 2006 with several teams in the league hailing from the New England and Quebec areas.
The Gamblers are owned by area businessman Curtis Thompson, a former player for Plante at Salmon River.
More information can be obtained on the team's website at www.nnyjrgamblers.com.