Jeremy Bachusz had heard that Southern Oregon Spartans fans were loud and loyal, but it wasn't until the team's main camp in late August that the new coach heard them for himself.
"There were a couple hundred fans screaming and hollering," he said.
Bachusz expects more of the same tonight, when Junior A Southern Oregon hosts the defending national champion Idaho Junior Steelheads. The Spartans' season-opening match starts at 7:30 p.m. at The RRRink (1349 Center Drive in Medford).
Southern Oregon, which finished 26-20 last year, enters its second year in the Western States Hockey League. The club finished second in the Northwest Conference behind Idaho, went 3-5 in the WSHL playoffs and was 1-2 in the Thorne Cup last season.
The 34-year-old Bachusz, a Michigan native, hopes the fast-paced style that he preferred while coaching at Oakland University will appeal to local fans, and he believes his personnel can run with his philosophies.
The 25-player roster includes 14 players from either Michigan or Ohio, five from Europe and two locals (forwards Daniel Gomez and Cy Jenson).
The Spartans are rich with defensemen and possess several proven scoring threats, Bachusz said. To them all he has preached the importance of the forecheck, a defensive play made in the offensive zone with the objective of applying pressure to the opposing team's puck carrier in order to force a turnover.
"We like to go defense to offense very fast," he said. "We want to play an aggressive, high-paced game and a physical one, but also be responsible. I don't like bad penalties. I am a pretty disciplined coach."
Tyler Lazarek, Trevor Hillman, Ging Martin, Mike Kowicki, Zachary Lovelace, Donnie Nagle IV and Jake Emerson are tabbed as D-men.
Those who could lead the offensive push include forwards Justus Saldeen (Limhamn, Sweden), Carl Edstrom, (Arsta, Sweden) Arturs Buss (Latvia), Ben Henry and Austin Sartorius.
Jenson is still in high school at South Medford, and he'll be a classmate with Michigan transfer Emerson.
Gomez is a former Crater standout.
Forward Adam Jonak is from the Czech Republic.
Ian Dvorak appears the top candidate to start at goalkeeper, with Hunter Myers and Jiri Ponikelsky (Czech Republic) also available.
Taylor McConnell, Rob Donovan, Kowicki, Lovelace and Martin were on the Spartan roster for at least some of last year.
"For the most part I come from the college game," Bachusz said. "I believe in developing players (and I am) not looking to make many moves this season. We are happy with the guys we have."
How did Southern Oregon establish such international reach with its European additions?
"The internet is amazing," Bachusz said.
Bachusz was hired in May and arrived in the Rogue Valley in August from Rochester, Mich. He previously spent four years as head coach at Oakland University in the Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League at the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I level.
Bachusz was recommended to Spartans part-owner Troy Irving by Sean Hogan, head coach of the Arizona program where Troy's son Dane plays. Bachusz replaced Joe Grimaldi, who was brought into the fold in January after the team parted ways with Mike Stanaway.
Bachusz and his crew welcome the immediate test from the Junior Steelheads (3-0), who won last year's USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championships. Idaho also eliminated Southern Oregon from Thorne Cup contention.
After tonight, the two teams play again at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Spartans next compete Oct. 11 at Ogden.
"You've got to play them at some point," Bachusz said. "I am excited we have a high level of talent and (Idaho) has been a very good program. It is going to be an exciting, high-paced game out there."
Tickets are $10 (general admission), $7 (students with identification) and $2 (children 5 and under). For more information, visit sospartans.com.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org