Winners of eight straight games in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, Hearst Lumberjacks have skated their way to within two points of the first-place Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in a beast of an East Division where five of the six teams boast records above the .500 mark.
A 6-2 road decision over Kirkland Lake on Sunday improved Hearst’s record to 26-14-5, good for 57 points. Kirkland Lake continues to lead the East Division with 59 points from a record of 28-13-3 and holds a game in hand on Hearst.
Also within range, however, are the Cochrane Crunch, Timmins Rock and Powassan Voodoos.
Cochrane has 54 points compared to 53 for Timmins and 46 for Powassan.
Kirkland Lake coach-general manager Ryan Wood told Hockey News North that he thinks “goal-tending is what makes our division as tight as it is. On all five teams in the race for first, there all great goalies.”
Wood added that the “tightness of the East Division is a testament to hard work. It should be a lot of exciting weeks of hockey coming up.”
Meanwhile, Hearst coach-general manager Marc Lafleur noted that there is “very little to choose” from among the top five teams in the NOJHL East.
“I can’t remember being a part of anything quite like this in terms of five teams who are so closely matched,” relayed Lafleur, who has an NOJHL championship on his resume from when he coached in Kirkland Lake. “The teams are so close it is unreal.”
And as Lafleur pointed out, “one of the teams is going to be gone in the preliminary around of the playoffs and that is going to be tough for one of us to take.”
Lafleur is referring to the opening round of the playoffs when the fourth and fifth place teams face off in a best-of-three series with the winner advancing to the semi finals with the top three teams in the division — and the loser going home for the season.
PHOTO: Sunday afternoon action from Kirkland Lake where the visiting Hearst Lumberjacks upended the Gold Miners.