IRONWOOD — Junior hockey will be making its’ debut next season at the Pat.
The Minnesota Junior Hockey League announced the expansion of their league to include the Fighting Yoopers as part of the Minnesota Division on Sunday.
The MnJHL has a total of 17 teams across two divisions. The Yoopers will become the third team from Michigan, joining the Tri City Icehawks from Bay City and the Marquette Royales.
Marquette plays in the Great Lakes Divsion, meaning any inter-U.P. rivalry will be in separate divisions.
According to the press release from the MnJHL website, the team was the product of a three-year process led by team owner Scott Kellett with help from Ralph Hayne GM/Owner of the Forest Lake Lakers.
“Mr. Hayne has been my biggest help to make these dreams become a reality,” Kellett said.
Kellett said he was excited to bring a team to the region and he is focused on the team being an integral part of the community. This led to the Fighting Yooper nickname, which Kellett said that he “wanted recognize the people of the U.P. for their hard working never give up mentality.”
The Yoopers will play at the Pat O’Donnell Civic Center in Ironwood under first year Head Coach Kurt Maki.
Maki has been coaching juniors for the past two years and has over 15 years of coaching experience between youth, high school, and juniors.
Also a U.P. native, Maki played high school hockey in Houghton, where he was all-state before playing in a variety of junior leagues, including the North American Hockey League and Great Lakes Hockey League.
Maki will be joined by Avery Wilson as an assistant coach and former junior hockey player.
As a new team, the Yoopers have a blank roster and will be looking across the region for players.
“I am looking for players who want an opportunity to get looked at for Tier II junior hockey or college hockey,” Kellett said.
The MnJHL is a Tier III league, one of 12 certified leagues in the country. Although some Tier III leagues advance players to the North American Hockey League (Tier I), the majority of players look to advance to NCAA D-III or college club programs.
Junior players must be under the age of 20 during the current season to participate. Most players enter Tier III hockey through tryouts and live with billet (host) families during the season.
Kellett said each player will be involved with giving back to the community, volunteering in a number of ways, including a required amount of time each week.
“I hope this will teach them to give back and appreciate being a mentor to the area youth,” he said. “I think helping to read to a first grade class or helping the 'learn to skate' youth program will help further their social skills and improve their own lives.”
Tryouts will be held June 28-29 in Ironwood, and the final camp will be in Duluth, Minn ., August 2-3.
The team will play a few exhibitions before starting their first year in the MnJHL.
For more information, visit http://www.wmdhockey.com.