There is a tidy development path along the rugged highway from Kapuskasing to Hearst that serves as player advancement between the two northeastern Ontario towns.
In particular, three players with 1999 birth dates have moved up from the Kapuskasing Flyers of the Great North Midget Hockey League to earn their keep as rookies with the Hearst Lumberjacks of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
They are forward Samuel Bourdages, defenseman Maxim Lacroix and goalie Nicholas Dube.
Teammates with the Kapuskasing midgets before, they are teammates with the Hearst juniors now.
Through 22 games thus far this 2017-2018 season, all three have proved their worth in Hearst as first year players in the NOJHL.
The 5-foot-11, 170 pound Bourdages is second on the Lumberjacks in scoring with 9 goals, 9 assists, 18 points.
The 5-foot-10, 190 pound Lacroix plays major minutes on the Lumberjack blue line and has chipped in with 2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points.
And the 5-foot-11, 175 pound Dube has a 4-5-0 record, 2.83 goals against average and .897 save percentage for a Hearst squad that has a 10-11-1 mark through 22 outings.
Intense, reputable Lumberjacks coach-general manager Marc Lafleur, who left championship success with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to return to his hometown of Hearst to head up the first year NOJHL franchise this 2017-2018 season, likes what he has in Bourdages, Lacroix and Dube.
Lafleur told HockeyNewsNorth.com that Bourdages has “an incredible upside. He will be a game breaker if he keeps improving his battle skills.”
As for Lacroix, Lafleur has the rookie on the Lumberjacks top defensive pairing with team-leading, high-scoring blue liner Alec Johnson.
“He plays hard nosed and has grit,” Lafleur said of Lacroix. “He does everything right and he does it with intensity.”
And Dube has seen his share of action with the Lumberjacks as their secondary goalie.
“He has been progressively gaining confidence throughout the year,” Lafleur said of his rookie puck stopper.
As Lafleur him self is from Hearst, so too are Bourdages and Lacroix. Dube also has northern Ontario roots, hailing from the tiny town of Longlac.
As for the Kapuskasing midgets to Hearst juniors pipeline, it has its geographic advantage as the two small towns are separated by about 60 miles of northern hockey highway.
Both towns are hockey hotbeds.
In Kapuskasing, the Flyer midgets are the big game in town and annually lead the Great North loop in attendance with crowds that routinely top the 700 mark.
And in Hearst, the Lumberjack juniors are second on the NOJHL attendance chart, averaging more than 675 fans per home game.
Kapuskasing is a town with a population of just over 8,000 residents while Hearst is home to about 5,500 dwellers.
PHOTO: Samuel Bourdages of the Hearst Lumberjacks acknowledges the home crowd at Claude Larose Arena.