Drive for five in NOJHL West


Randy Russon
By
December 21, 2020
Gavin Disano

Teams in the cohort tent of the West Division of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League are now on holiday recess until slated resumption of play in January.

And, to be sure, the Blind River Beavers, Espanola Express, Soo Thunderbirds, Rayside Balfour Canadians and French River Rapids have all wrapped their share of presents from regular season action during these modified days of play that began in mid November.

At any rate, following are some notable notations relative to the five active teams of the NOJHL West. Team records are in brackets.

BLIND RIVER (5-3-0, 10 points.) In his fifth season as the hockey boss in small market Blind River, coach and general manager Kyle Brick has once again put together a Beavers team with winning ways.

And rookie goalie Gavin Disano has been just one of an assortment of achievers for the Beavers thus far into the 2020-2021 campaign.

A Sault Ste. Marie product with a 2003 birth date, Disano has a 3-0-0 record to go with a .908 save percentage and 3.56 goals against average for Blind River.

Then there is the one-two points pair of forwards Noah Minns and Jacob Kelly, a retread who has prior experience in the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.

Devin Mauro

Minns is atop the scoring chart with five goals, 14 assists, 19 points and Kelly is right behind with 8-9-17 totals.

Also on the impressive list in Blind River is 2004 birth year rookie forward Devin Mauro.

Hailing from Sault Ste. Marie and a 2020 Ontario Hockey League priority selection draft pick of the Sudbury Wolves, Mauro has three goals, eight assists, 11 points in eight games for Blind River.

ESPANOLA (4-4-2, 10 points.) The youngest team in the NOJHL, the Express does not have a single 2000 birth year player on its roster.

And Espanola’s top three point producers are all 2003 birth year forwards from the Sudbury area — and all are OHL priority selection draft picks from 2019.

The talented troika is made up of Cameron Walker, Bradley Brunet and Devon Savignac. Walker is the scoring leader with seven goals, five assists, 12 points while Brunet is right there with 5-7-12 numbers and Savignac just behind with 6-5-11 totals.

Walker is the OHL property of the Kingston Frontenacs, Brunet belongs to the Niagara Ice Dogs and Savignac is a prospect of the North Bay Battalion.

Owen Willis

Meanwhile, rather impressively, no less than 18 Espanola players have picked up at least one point this season.

Of cause for consternation is that in 10 games spanning 600 minutes, Espanola has given up a whopping 496 shots on goal, which is an average of almost 50 per outing.

For example, OHL London Knights draft pick Owen Willis has faced an overwhelming 252 shots in 264 minutes of action for Espanola. Which makes the .909 save percentage that Willis has over five appearances for the Express all the more impressive.

SOO THUNDERBIRDS (4-3-1, nine points.) The Soo took three of four closely-contested matches from Espanola just before the holiday break to move over the .500 mark.

A big story for the Thunderbirds through eight games of the regular season has been the play of 2004 birth year defenseman Connor Toms, who was a third round pick of the Soo Greyhounds at the 2020 OHL priority selection draft.

From his blue line post and as the youngest player on the Thunderbirds, Toms is the Soo’s scoring leader with two goals, seven assists, nine points.

Also among the Thunderbirds top points producers are Cooper Smyl with 4-4-8 totals, Caleb Wood with 3-5-8 numbers, Michael Chaffay at 4-2-6, Avery Rebek at 4-2-6 and 2004 birth year rookie Tyson Doucette with 3-3-6 stats.

Of note, Doucette has already surpassed his goal total of last season when he tallied just twice in 24 games for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League.

Connor Toms

Meantime, Toms isn’t the only defenseman who has been putting up the points for the T-Birds.

Jacob Doucette (who is Tyson’s older brother) and Cameron Dutkiewicz have identical numbers from their defense position, both with two goals, three assists, five points.

Between the pipes, Alex Bugeja has proven to be a nice off season pickup by Thunderbirds general manager Trev Zachary from the Fort Frances Lakers of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League.

Bugeja, who has a 2001 birth date, has a 3-1-1 record for the Soo to go with a 2.42 goals against average and an eye-catching .938 save percentage.

RAYSIDE BALFOUR (3-6-1, seven points.) After starting the season with a 1-4-1 record in six crossover games with the Timmins Rock of the East Division, the Canadians split four decisions with Blind River just prior to the Christmas break.

Nick DeGrazia, with seven goals, eight assists, 15 points, and Owen Perala, with 7-4-11 totals, have been lighting it up for Rayside Balfour through 10 games of the regular season.

Nick DeGrazia

DeGrazia, who has a December, 2002 birth date, has been tabbed as a prospect for the 2021 National Hockey League draft. Which not only speaks volumes about DeGrazia but the NOJHL as a league and Rayside Balfour as a program.

What is interesting is that, in some corners, the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL are trying to take credit for DeGrazia’s ranking with NHL Central Scouting. But the fact of the matter is that DeGrazia has played in only four OHL career games with the Wolves.

Meanwhile, also contributing in a big way for the Canadians thus far this season has been another veteran forward in Brady Maltais, who has three goals, eight assists, 11 points.

And the Canadians have a potentially potent one-two tandem between the pipes in proven veteran David Bowen and rookie Jake Marois.

FRENCH RIVER (3-3-0, six points.) The Rapids have played the fewest games of any squad in the West Division and have been idle since November 28 as the odd team out in the cohort system of play.

French River boasts five players who are averaging more than a point per game through the Rapids six outings.

Levi Siau is leading the French River points post with four goals, nine assists, 13 points.

Following Siau are fellow forwards Ryan Smith with 3-6-9 totals, Ty Chambers at 3-5-8, Jack Tos with 2-6-8 numbers and Griffin Simpson with 3-4-7 stats.

NOTE: The West Division’s sixth team, the Michigan-based Soo Eagles, have yet to play a league game this season because of the ongoing closure of the Canada/United States border.



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