Located 1,650 kilometres southeast from the Manitoba/Ontario border, is the city of North Bay, Ontario which bolsters a population of just over 50,000 people. The city overlooks Lake Nipissing, which is also the name of the local university. Nipissing University was rated 3rd in the nation for student satisfaction in 2016 by Maclean’s Magazine and is the home of head coach Mike McParland’s Lakers Men’s varsity hockey team who compete in the OUA. A team that is more than satisfied with the influx of Manitoba talent they have seen come through their program since their inaugural season in 2009.
Mike McParland grew up in northwestern Ontario and played for the North Bay Trappers and Sudbury Wolves of the OHA with the likes of Ron Duguay and Mike Foligno before going overseas. He returned to Canada in 2008 after 26 years in Switzerland where he played and coached in their National Leagues. Upon his return, he took the head coaching job with the Lakers and hasn’t looked back, building a program from the ground up. A program that in his mind, wouldn’t be where it is without the MJHL alumni that he has been able to recruit. “We have been really lucky with the guys we have brought in from Manitoba”, explains McParland, “Whether it be Danny Watt, Jason Gray, Jonny Mitchell or Brendan Mitchell, they have all contributed”.
Since McParland took over in 2009, there have been 10 players graduate from the MJHL and move onto playing for Nipissing, including three team captains in Jason Gray (Winnipeg South Blues), Brendan Mitchell (Selkirk Steelers) and Patrice Wren (Winkler Flyers). Those 10 players have logged a total of 379 regular season games collectively. “Between Carson Shields (Recruitment Men’s Hockey) and my visits to Manitoba, we have been able to get some quality players”, says Mike, “We don’t always have the most to offer in terms of money but our school and reputation speaks for itself”. One of those players, Jason Gray, who just came off a breakthrough season with the Dundee Stars of the EIHL- agrees with McParland. “Nipissing gave me the opportunity to play in the CIS and by my last season I was the captain”, explains Gray, “It set me up for life after school, on the ice and off.” Gray plans to return to the UK next year and obtain his MBA.
The term “Success Breeds Success” could be applied when speaking about the program at Nipissing. The team has never won a championship but is in the mix every single year and there are many players eager to follow in the footsteps of Gray. Coach McParland would rather measure the success of the program by the character of the graduates rather than the year to year record. One of those players is Brendan Mitchell, a two time Academic All-Canadian and assistant captain with the Lakers who is entering into his final season with the club. “I’ll graduate this year with a BBA (Hons.) and I’m looking to continue my hockey career at a higher level”, says Mitchell, “Carson scouted me, Mike gave me an opportunity to play and the small class sizes helped me to succeed off the ice”.
Looking to next year, McParland is eager to make a splash in the OUA and thrust deeper into the playoffs. He knows that will require fresh talent to push veterans and build that internal competition. Does that mean more MJHL alumni? “We have talked to a few players from the MJHL this year and we hope we can land some of them . . . the league prepares guys to make the jump but how soon they adjust is up to them”, adds McParland.
Below is a list of MJHL Alumni who have played at Nipissing:
Maxime Provencher- Swan Valley
Cole Holowenko- Swan Valley
Jaret Smith- Neepawa
Dan Watt- Winnipeg Saints
Jason Gray- Winnipeg Blues
Patrice Wren- Winkler Flyers
Brendan Mitchell- Selkirk
Tyler Riel- Winnipeg Blues
Guillaume Naud- Dauphin
Mitchell Deacon- Swan Valley