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Shiny new Spartans set to go on ice

Around the globe David Cole went. One day he was in freezing Anchorage, Alaska, and the next in sizzling Las Vegas.

To hockey tournaments, showcases and exposure camps he traveled beginning in March, whizzing about with a suitcase of T-shirts and sweaters to build the ultimate Southern Oregon Spartans team. The newly hired coach penciled down notes at arenas and listened carefully to players and their parents at dinner tables. No stone should be left unturned, Cole decided early on. He wanted a future roster with brains and bronze.

The Junior A hockey team, now in its third season in the Western States Hockey League, begins the regular season by hosting the Missoula Maulers at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at The RRRink (1349 Center Drive in Medford). The three-game series continues at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

The Spartans won two exhibition matches last weekend over the Santa Rose College Polar Bears, 8-3 and 13-4.

The WSHL is the largest junior league in North America. The Spartans compete in the Northwest Division with six other teams: the Butte Cobras, Idaho Junior Steelheads, Lake Tahoe Blue, Seattle Totems, Whitefish Wolverines and the Maulers.

Eleven members of the Spartans are from the United States, while nine are from Cole’s home Canada and one from Sweden.

Only four members from last year’s squad remain: defenseman Zach Lovelace of Wasilla, Alaska; Tyler Spencer (Detroit), Logan Myers (Oreg, Ohio) and Doug Gutierrez (San Jose, Calif.).

Cole, who was hired in April, had most recently worked for The Hockey Group Agency in an advisory role. Before that, he coached in the Ontario Hockey Association, Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, American Frontier Hockey League, America West Hockey League and North American Hockey League, beginning his career in 1984 as an assistant coach with the Canada Buffaloes. His involvement in hockey has included roles as head coach, assistant coach, general manager and scout.

Cole hopes to do what recent Spartans coaches have not: lasted for an extended period. The franchise cycled through Jeremy Bachusz, Joe Grimaldi and Mike Stanaway (who was traded) in only two seasons.

The club missed the playoffs after finishing 12-32-2 last season. In their first year in the WSHL, the Spartans went 26-19-1 and 3-5 in the postseason.

Southern Oregon conquered the Northern Pacific Hockey League and won the Cascade Cup in 2011-12.

Cole said he fell in love with the Rogue Valley. The franchise and its fan base reminded him of the enthusiasm he witnessed while in Casper, Wyo., and Bozeman, Mont. He said he admired the dedication shown by the front office and was intrigued by the idea of coaching in the WSHL.

“It is a league heading in the right direction and I’m with an organization that puts a priority on putting a good product on the ice and making an impact on this league,” said Cole, who is originally from Stratford, Ontario.

“Just the town, the atmosphere — plus I can play golf after practice,” Cole said. “It was a nice fit.”

Cole finds himself surrounded by beautiful mountains and trees outside. Inside the arena, he feels he is surrounded by talent.

One of his finest pickups is Mackenzie Wood, an experienced 5-foot-10, 180-pound shooting forward from the Niagara Falls Canucks Hockey Club. A native of Simcoe, Ontario, Wood committed to the Spartans in July.

“He’s a well-respected player,” Cole said. “Obviously, he had a lot of options. Why does he pick coming to play for us? He wanted to experience the lifestyle here but he wanted the exposure. It’s tremendous. He’s always been a point producer. I think what doesn’t get noticed as much is that he is an excellent two-way player and his leadership is a positive.”

Anton Ivehed, the Swede, is a 5-7, 175-pound left-shooting defenseman from Linhamn Hockey Club who signed with Southern Oregon in June.

“He’s had some experience with the pro club and top U20 club (in Sweden),” Cole said. “I see him being a big contributor on the power play and penalty kill.”

Goalkeeper Tymen Edelkoort III, of Smithville, Ontario, has been impressive so far. The 5-11, 200-pounder was scouted in the Prospects tournament in Toronto and committed in June at the completion of a goaltender camp put on by The Hockey Group. The camp featured instruction from Detroit Red Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard.

“He was one of 10 goalies that Mr. Bedard worked with,” Cole said. “He really caught our attention and continues to work hard every day.”

Defenseman Brody Surette of Edmonton, Alberta, brings toughness to the ice with a frame of 6-2, 205.

“He’s got that presence, a pro presence,” Cole said. “He’s big, strong, moves well, sees the ice well and plays very physical. We are a team that has to be physical. Everything we talk about is based on work ethic and physicality. This is a game that isn’t for the faint of heart.”

Cole knew immediately that he liked Zach Lovelace when he discovered he had played with a separated shoulder last season.

“He battled,” Cole said. “He’s been the biggest surprise of the offseason. He blocks shots, is physical, has a presence and has good leadership.”

Zach isn’t the only Lovelace: little brother Jonathon, a forward, also made the squad.

“He’s a speedster,” Cole said. “What an opportunity to play with your brother.”

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt

Southern Oregon Spartans goalie Tymen Edelkoort III gets a workout during a recent practice. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Luke Fraser, a forward for the Southern Oregon Spartans, handles the puck at a recent workout at The RRRink. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.