New coach looks to build up Finlandia program

John McCabe takes over as coach after serving as an assistant at Alabama-Huntsville for six years, where the  weather is a bit more hospitable than in  Michigan Upper Peninsula’s Hancock, where up to 250 inches snow falls annually.

However, the native of Espanola, Ont., sees his move as a “homecoming,” since his hometown is in the Canadian province’s northern reaches.

“I think it will be more of an adjustment for my wife (Carla) and children,” McCabe says. “(Lillie and Annslee) will have to deal with more of a transition, as they will be experiencing their first winter away from their home in Huntsville.”

The 1,005-mile move north is a natural for McCabe, who played on two NCAA D-II championship teams at UAH. Finlandia is a way off from similar achievements, but McCabe is eager to get the Lions there.

McCabe inherits a Lions team that struggled through the 2008-09 campaign. A few pieces from last season’s seventh-place outfit return, most notably juniors Nemanja Jankovic (11 goals, nine assists, 20 points) and Charlie Benik (nine goals, seven assists, 16 points). The pair will serve as team captains with sophomore Cam Goude.

“Nemmy Jankovic is a young man from Serbia whose work ethic, professionalism, and leadership on and off the ice will teach our freshmen how things should be done at the college level,” McCabe says. “Charlie Benik and Cam Goude are first-class people who will lead by example on the ice and in the class-room.”

The first-year coach is also excited by Finlandia’s freshman crop, which includes forward Sebastian Rosendahl (Boston Jr. Bruins), Collin Saint-Onge (Marquette Rangers NAHL), Kevin Smith (Soo Thunderbirds NOJHL) and Sean Burke (Traverse City North Stars NAHL).

“I really like our freshmen class this year,” McCabe says. “We have several players who I think will develop into solid college hockey players.”

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