Five teams joined the Eastern Hockey League and EHLP at the start of the 2022-23 season, and the Adirondack Jr. Thunder of the EHLP stands out as one of the more interesting expansion teams in the early going.
The Jr. Thunder are from Glens Falls, NY and play at Cool Insuring Arena, the same venue used by the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL. They are coached by Glenn Merkosky, who played in the NHL and AHL, including multiple seasons with the Adirondack Red Wings. Merkosky was inducted in the AHL Hall of Fame in 2018 and had also coached for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League.
As of this writing, the Jr. Thunder are off to a 5-3-3 start and are on a four-game winning streak, as they sit just three points behind the first-place Vermont Lumberjacks of the New England Division. Seven of their first 11 games have gone past regulation, and their first win as a franchise came in a shootout against the Seahawks Hockey Club at the Worcester Showcase.
We spoke with Merkosky about the start of the season, the coaching staff’s ability to build a strong team with a roster that’s almost entirely from New York, the team’s interaction with current and former professionals and his initial impression of the EHL.
What are your initial thoughts of the Jr. Thunder’s inaugural season so far?
“I think we have a pretty good team; we’ve been in a lot of one-goal hockey games and I think there’s a little bit of a learning curve for a lot of guys who—although they played at different levels—are coming to this level and it’s been a bit of an adjustment. I guess as a coach, the biggest thing I’m trying to get across to these players is when you’re in one-goal hockey games, you can win them as easy as you could lose them.
There’s really only been one game, the first game of the season where we weren’t really hitting at all and in any aspect of our game and we got beat pretty handily by the Vermont Lumberjacks, but other than that we’ve had a chance to win every hockey game we’ve been in.”
It’s tough for any hockey team to start up from scratch, but the Jr. Thunder managed to get a lot of players from around the area including EHLP veterans like Jack Randall and Devon Salone. What does it mean to have players of that caliber while having such an incredibly local team with players from NY state?
“Well, we’ve been very lucky that way that we have a lot of those guys. We have a great venue, we play in the CIA (Cool Insuring Arena), the old Glens Falls Civic Center and it’s a beautiful building, they’re building us our own locker room and we have a good affiliation with the pro team and we’re setting up mentorship programs with the pros so our guys can work with the pro guys with on ice and off ice things and learn from them.
They felt we were putting together a good program, the local kids knew about it, kids from not in our area didn’t really know about it. So we want to put a competitive team on the ice this year and then show what Glens Falls can bring to the league, and hopefully recruiting will be a little bit easier in the future.”
You talk about working with the pros, you also played that level yourself in the NHL and AHL. Players have talked about practicing with other NHLers, even having Mark Howe serve as an assistant coach for a game. What does that say about the kind of community that exists in the Glens Fall area with so many different high-level players and coaches helping out?
“I think going back over the years and being involved in pro sports and after players retire, they tend to stay in Glens Falls. It’s a nice place to live and we’ve become a real community there. We’re very fortunate we have Joe Paterson, who is a professional coach at all levels and he comes out to our practices, and he’s at the point now where he doesn’t want to travel and do too much but he loves coming onto the ice and working with the players, and I think the kids are fortunate to have someone like that, who spends as much time with our team as he does.
It’s been a real asset, and like I said, guys like Claude Loiselle, who’s been an assistant general manager on several teams in the NHL, and had a playing career himself, he’s involved with our club. He likes to come out and help once in a while, so we’ve been very fortunate to have everybody chip in and it’s been a true community effort.”
You had also coached for the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League, how would your experience at the Canadian major junior level translate to the EHLP?
“I think the biggest thing is the age of the players. When I moved from pro hockey back to major junior in Canada, you were dealing with some different factors. For example, they eat meals at different times because their metabolism is different. The pros like to eat at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, the junior players, they metabolize a little faster so you have to set the meals back until 3 and other things like that. So yeah, I think the biggest thing I took away from that was dealing with that age group.”
Your son, Jack, plays on the Jr. Thunder. Did that have any influence on your decision to coach this team?
“Well actually, I didn’t know that he was going to play on this team. It’s a difficult situation when you’re coaching your son. He’s an age-out this year so after this year, he’ll be gone, and hopefully he has a good experience and I can have a good experience coaching my son since it’ll be my last chance to do that. That’s something you deal with, it’s probably not the easiest part but we’ll move on from it and hopefully everyone has a good season.”
You’ve been to an EHL showcase already in Worcester, so you’ve got to catch a glimpse of a lot of teams. What are your initial impressions of the league?
I think there are some good players in this league, I think there are some good players with a lot of potential and the ability to move up. We’re a real development league and if we do our job here, we do our job in Adirondack as other teams in this league do, we’re probably trying to rebuild our team every year because players are moving up to another level or on to bigger and better things.”