Area hockey fans will not have to endure two seasons without the opportunity to watch a high caliber, local team.
The Toledo Cherokee has jumped up to the Junior A level and will offer skill along with a physical style, according to coach Iain Duncan.
"Moving to Junior A will be good for everybody," Duncan said. "It will draw a lot more attention from fans and the players. I'm looking forward to it."
The Cherokee has played at the Junior B level since its inception in 1994. The bump up to Tier III, Junior A should translate into an entertaining brand of hockey, according to Duncan.
"It will be high energy hockey," Duncan said. "People will be very surprised with the level of talent. Fans will love the intensity. These kids go even harder. They're younger and they want it more."
The Cherokee plays in the Central States Hockey League, which recently received Junior A status from USA Hockey.
CSHL official Mike Hazelton said the organization joins five other leagues now competing in the Junior A, Tier III division. The top division in Junior A is Tier I and many of those players go on to compete at Division I colleges.
"The CSHL feels that this classification will attract an even higher quality player to a league that was considered by many to be the top Tier III Junior B league in the country in recent years," Hazelton said.
The Cherokee won a Junior B national championship in 1998. Teams from the CSHL have won five of the last six Junior B national championships.
Duncan said he hopes the Cherokee can fill a void created by the hiatus of Toledo's pro team. The Storm, which was recently purchased by the Mud Hens baseball organization, will be dark for two seasons while a new arena is being built downtown.
Duncan, who was known for his bruising style while playing for Bowling Green State University, the Storm and the NHL's Winnipeg Jets, said his team will be physical.
"I like the physical part of the game when I played and I haven't wavered from that," Duncan said. "You intimidate through physical play. These kids aren't afraid to drop the gloves. There will be some good bouts.
"But we will have finesse and speed as well."
Duncan said he will have eight or nine high scoring forwards and five that are more physical.
The players range in age from 15 to 20, but teams in the CSHL are limited to only five 20-year-olds per club. The 13-team league has four clubs in Ohio and five in Michigan.
The Cherokee plays its home games at the Toledo Ice House on West Alexis. It will play two games per week and the season runs from September until April.
Most of the team's home games will be televised on BCSN.
Duncan said the Cherokee will hold a final closed camp beginning Aug. 2 and will make the cut from 60 players to 25.
The team's season opener is Sept. 8 at Chicago and its home opener is Sept. 30 against Dubuque. Toledo's first five games are on the road.
"That's good because we'll get the long trips out of the way," Duncan said.
The Cherokee is a nonprofit organization with an annual budget around $200,000. The players pay $4,000 per season to play for the team.
"We get a lot of college scouts that come to our games. That's why they like to play for us," Duncan said.
Duncan said he anticipates that he will pick up six to eight players from northwest Ohio.
"We will have a lot of locals," Duncan said. "This will be the most local kids we've ever had involved.
"Any young hockey player would be very proud to play Junior A and it will be high intensity for the fans."
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