The clock is ticking on the regular season watch of the Great North Midget Hockey League. The 2017-2018 regular season slate in both the major midget and minor midget divisions ends in early February.
All six teams in the major midget division play a 36-game regular season before the playoffs get underway.
The three minor midget teams play an unbalanced, 24-game regular season schedule before the Soo Thunderbirds play host to the first-ever, Northern Ontario Cup, which is slated to be staged from March 2-4 in Sault Ste. Marie.
The event will be held in collaboration with the Northern Ontario Hockey Association and feature four minor midget teams — the Thunderbirds, North Bay Trappers and Sudbury Wolves of the Great North loop as well as the Thunder Bay Kings out of northwestern Ontario. All teams will be guaranteed five games and will play towards an NOHA championship trophy.
At any rate, following is a team by team look at the Great North as the 2017-2018 regular season winds down.
North Bay Trappers (26-2-2, 54 points.) Led by the venerable Guy Blanchard, who is widely considered to be the best midget level coach in northern Ontario, the Trappers are once again taking aim at championship glory.
Second-year goalie Joel Rainville has been a standout between the pipes and veteran forwards Nick Davis and Cole Craft have combined for 46 goals and 88 points.
Blanchard believes in a team first defense and the Trappers have benefited big time under the guidance and leadership of the former Ontario Hockey League coach.
Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves (24-4-0, 48 points.) Having loaded up with so much veteran talent, it is actually hard to comprehend how the Nickel Capitals have even lost a game.
Top to bottom, from goalies to defenseman to forwards, this is a scary team that can run the score.
A trio of high scoring forwards who top the chart are Carson McMillan and his 21 goals, 26 assists, 47 points, Tommy Vlahos, who has 18-25-43 totals and Joe Mazur, an OHL draft pick of the Sudbury Wolves who has put up 17-23-40 numbers to date.
Kapuskasing Flyers (17-10-3, 37 points.) As North Bay is well coached by the aforementioned Blanchard, Kapuskasing is in the very capable hands of bench boss Glen Denney.
Flyers goalie Sebastian Plamandon is among the best in the Great North and Kap can always count on the two-headed forward front of Mathieu Parent and Jared Dupuis.
Parent leads the Flyers with 14 goals, 28 assists, 42 points and Dupuis is right behind with 11-27-38 totals.
Kapuskasing has already clinched third place and is poised to finish the regular season in that spot.
Soo Greyhounds (12-19-4, 28 points.) There is some very good individual talent on this Soo squad and it is rather unsettling that the Greyhounds will finish no higher than fourth in the standings.
High end forwards include Avery Rebek and his 19 goals, 14 assists, 33 points followed by the likes of Caleb Wood with 17-9-26 numbers, Owen Shier at 8-18-26, Raf Praysner at 9-15-24, Parker Morgan at 12-9-21 and defenseman Jonathan Mackin at 7-14-21.
The Greyhounds have had several players move up to various teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League this season including defenseman Jordan Ritchie to the French River Rapids.
There are also a pair of minor midget aged forwards who have shown well in Nick Jameus and Nick Niro. The pair opted for the Greyhound major midgets instead of the Thunderbird minor midgets before the start of the season.
The Soo is solid between the pipes but the tell tale sign of its record is the league-high — by far — 801 penalty minutes that the Greyhounds have spent in the penalty box.
Timmins Majors (12-17-1, 25 points.) Like North Bay and Kapuskasing, Timmins is well coached as 28-year old rookie bench boss Brandon Perry has done an exceptional job with the Majors.
Veteran forward Austin Holmes has been a top skater for the Majors all season and has seen double duty as a frequent call-up and practice player with the Timmins Rock of the NOJHL. Holmes and fellow veteran forward Riley Brousseau have been scoring mainstays with 12 goals apiece.
2002 birth year rookie Kobe Barrette has also impressed on the forward lines with 11 goals and could be picked at this year’s OHL priority selections draft.
And simply put, rookie goalie Dylan Dallaire has been the man between the pipes for Timmins.
Dallaire has a 10-8-0 record with a 3.09 goals against average. When Dallaire is not in goal, the Majors have struggled with a 2-9-1 record and 5.23 goals against average.
New Liskeard Cubs (5-26-1, 11 points.) Ouch. It has been a rather painful season for the Cubs, who will finish in last place.
There have been a few bright lights up in New Liskeard including forwards Robbie Popkie and Maxim Breault.
MINOR MIDGET DIVISION
North Bay Trappers (14-6-0, 28 points.) Sault Ste. Marie product David Campbell, a rangy forward, leads the Trappers in scoring with 20 goals, 11 assists, 31 points and is projected as an OHL draft pick this year.
The cream of the crop as far as OHL prospects from the Great North is Trappers defenseman Pacey Schleuting, who has 10 goals, 16 assists, 26 points from his blue line post.
North Bay also features OHL draft prospect Reece Proulx between the pipes.
Other 2018 OHL draft prospects on the Trappers include forwards Joe Jordan and Jack Stockfish and defenseman Ben Brunette.
Sudbury Wolves. (10-8-0, 20 points.) The Wolves have a nice collection of possible OHL prospects as well.
Wolves with howl include forwards Dario Beljo, Gavin Brown, Ethan Masson, Giordano Biondi and Hunter Brazier.
Soo Thunderbirds (2-16-3, 7 points.) Strong goal-tending and team discipline are trademarks of the Soo minor midgets.
Athletic, technically tuned goalie Noah Zeppa has accounted for all of the Thunderbirds points thus far this season while under a steady siege of shots and Tyler Greco has shown improvement between the pipes after a shaky start to the campaign.
Zeppa, to be sure, has been the subject of close watch by a group of OHL scouts. Small in stature, Zeppa is big on big-time performances.
Others who have made a mark on the Soo minor midgets this season include speedy forward Justin Mauro and defenseman Mateo Perri, among others.