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Inaugural season for Shores-based pro hockey team begins later this month

By: Jason Carmel Davis | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 14, 2016

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — The puck drops on the inaugural season for the St. Clair Shores Fighting Saints of the Federal Hockey League Oct. 29, and team general manager Brandon Contratto said things are progressing smoothly in advance of the season.

The team, the newest squad in the seven-team FHL, opened training camp Oct. 13. The Saints will call the St. Clair Shores Civic Arena home.

“We’re happy with the support we’ve had from the city and how everything has moved along thus far,” said Contratto, who also serves as the team’s associate head coach. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the community reacts to having this level of hockey in town. We will have a skilled team with local and European players, but it will still be blue-collar hockey.”

The roster on the team’s website names 13 players, including Clinton Township native Jonathan Juliano, Macomb Township native Michael Lipari and St. Clair Shores native Andy Dicristofaro.

Dicristofaro, a goaltender, signed with the Saints Aug. 4 after a stint with the FHL’s Port Huron Prowlers.

Contratto said the Saints are going to add more players as training camp progresses. He said some trades and additional signings have been made too, and that the final roster will be set about 10 days before the start of the season.

The Saints play a 56-game schedule — 28 home and 28 away games. The team plays a weighted schedule, which sees the squad face off against teams closer in proximity more frequently.

The team will have an East Coast swing once a month, Contratto said.

Contratto, during a May 18 press conference, said FHL officials had been looking to bring a team to the area. He said Fraser was also considered as a possible home for the squad.

“We thought it just made sense to put a team in St. Clair Shores,” Contratto said. “We know how much people in the area love hockey, and we want to bring it to them.”

Homecoming for coach
St. Clair Shores native Dave Debol coaches the team.

Debol, a Saline resident, graduated from the University of Michigan and was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1976 NHL Amateur Draft. He made his NHL debut in 1979 for the Hartford Whalers. Debol was inducted into the U of M Athletic Hall of Honor in 1996, and he has coached at various levels.

Debol is excited about his newest coaching venture. He said the team will work hard to put a good product on the ice and that players will be good for the community.

The Saints’ home opener is at 5 p.m. Oct. 30 against Port Huron.

Contratto said the game will feature a few special events, including a ceremonial puck drop, recognition of city officials, along with promotional discounts on team jerseys and apparel.

“We’re hoping that we have a strong community presence and a sellout crowd,” Contratto said.

Individual game tickets cost $10 for adults, and $7 for military personnel, seniors and youths between ages 4 and 16. Children under 4 get free admission.

Season tickets are available. The cost for an adult season ticket is $219, and $149 for military personnel, seniors and youths ages 4 and 16. 


Background on the league
The FHL, founded in 2009, has teams in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York. Port Huron won the league championship, the Commissioner’s Cup, last season.

The most recent season concluded April 22. Four teams advanced to the playoffs. Rosters feature about 25 players.

The FHL hands out awards at the end of each season, such as Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Coach of the Year.

Last season saw 21 players earn call-ups to the ECHL and the American Hockey League, which are the only minor leagues recognized by the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association.


Fielding a competitive team
Debol said his team will feature an aggressive, attacking offense but that he will change his offensive approach if the need arises.

“But you can’t win without goaltending,” Debol said. “And we want to have good, sound defensemen and a few Bobby Orr types who can move up and down the ice.”

The Saints are entering their first season, but that doesn’t mean expectations aren’t high.

Contratto said the team is filled with experienced, solid players.

“Right now we have the ultimate goal of reaching the (league finals) in our first season, while moving as many players as possible up to higher leagues,” Contratto said. “We’ve already had four players called up to the ECHL before the start of the season, which is great to see.”

Contratto is confident that patrons will become fans of the team very quickly.

“If you want to see exciting, fast-paced hockey with a strong community spirit and players who are willing to do what it takes for their team and town, you won’t want to miss a game this season,” Contratto said.

For more information on the Saints and the FHL, go to www.federalhockey.com.

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