The Minnesota Junior Hockey League has expanded its boundaries into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and into one of hockey’s truest community treasures.
The expansion Marquette (Mich.) Royales will debut as a member of the MnJHL’s Great Lake Division in 2013-14, completing a journey home for the man who said this is the opportunity he’s been coveting for a lifetime.
“Marquette is home to me,” said native Mike Stanaway, who will serve as the team’s head coach in this upcoming inaugural season. “This town loves this game, and we are confident we will give them something to be proud of.”
The franchise got started on that quest in quick fashion, gaining USA Hockey sanctioned approval into the MnJHL after originally committing to play in the Midwest Junior Hockey League.
That had the wheels in building a team already well in motion when the opportunity to join the MnJHL arrived, giving Stanaway a head start in making what he called a “no brainer of a decision.”
“We could not be happier to add Marquette as an officially league member,” said MnJHL vice president Cal Ballard. “Expanding our footprint into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an exciting move for the league, and we couldn’t be more proud to see this come together.”
The team will play in Marquette’s 3,100 seat Lakeview Arena, which was the long time home to Northern Michigan University’s Division I men’s ice hockey team and known as one of college hockey’s most intimidating buildings to play in.
The Royales hope to make it the same .
“It will be great to see Lakeview rocking again,” said Stanaway. “That atmosphere in there can be unbelievable.”
Stanaway would know. He great up in Marquette, and is a graduate of Finlandia University in Hancock, Mich., where he played Division III college hockey.
He got into coaching upon graduation, first taking a job with the Green Bay Jr. Gamblers Midget AAA program before joining the junior hockey ranks with current Great Lakes Division member Central Wisconsin.
He led the Saints to the postseason in each of his seasons with the team, including a final four appearance in 2010-11.
Stanoway has since spent the past two years on the west coast, first with the New Mexico Renegades and then the Southern Oregon Spartans, where last winter he coached the Spartans into the Tier III USA Hockey National Tournament after leading the team to a 40-9 regular season.
“The experience was great, but it will be nice to be back home,” said Stanaway. “We’ve got a great foundation. A lot of the players that I coaches and coached against in the out west are coming along over to the Minnesota League, and we’ve been hard on the recruiting trail for a while now. This is an exciting time around here.”
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)