This could well be termed the year of the goalie in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. To be sure, there is net worth aplenty throughout the 12-team NOJHL.
Conservatively speaking, there are about a dozen high-end goalies currently starring in the NOJHL who could play in just about any of the many other tier two, Jr. A level, hockey leagues in Canada.
Among the absolute best goalies in the NOJHL are, from the East Division, Tyler Masternak and Vance Meyer of the Timmins Rock, and Owen Say of the Powassan Voodoos.
Masternak and Meyer give Timmins, quite arguably, the best net-minding tandem in the entire NOJHL.
Masternak, who has a 2000 birth date, has a record of 21-4-2 to go with a 1.70 goals against average and .930 save percentage. He also has the most shutouts in the NOJHL with six.
Meyer, on the other hand, has a record of 14-4-0 to go with a 1.56 goals against average and .928 save percentage. Mayer, who has a 2002 birth date, ranks second in the NOJHL in shutouts with four.
Thus, remarkably, the two Timmins goalies have combined for 10 shutouts thus far this season.
Over to Powassan, where the Voodoos are in a race for first place in the East Division with Timmins, Owen Say has had quite the say with a record of 24-2-0 to go with a 1.95 goals against average and .931 save percentage. Say has a 2001 birth date.
From the West Division, as Blind River and Rayside Balfour are locking horns for top spot, both the Beavers and Canadians have received exceptional work between the pipes over the course of the season.
Blind River has the luxury of having two 1999 birth-year goalies in Jackson Hjelle and Dominic Boily.
Hjelle, an American-born puck stopper who is in his second NOJHL season with Blind River, has picked up his game this 2019-2020 campaign. Thus far this season, Hjelle has a record of 16-6-2 to go with a 2.26 goals against average and .934 save percentage.
Boily, meanwhile, has shown to be an attractive alternative to Hjelle in the Blind River net since being acquired from the last-place Elliot Lake Wildcats earlier this season.
Since joining the Beavers, Boily has a record of 6-3-0 to go with a 2.80 goals against average and .912 save percentage.
Beavers coach and general manager Kyle Brick certainly likes what he has in Hjelle and Boily.
Starting with Hjelle, Brick said his lead goalie “has been phenomenal … he gives us a chance to win every night. Jackson is a big, sound and athletic goalie and he has a calming presence in the net that allows our guys to play confident in front of him.”
As for Boily, Brick noted that “Dom has also been great. We knew what we were getting when we acquired him. I don’t think I’ve ever had a goalie who battles like he does. He never gives up on pucks and has big save, big game ability.”
Brick added that “we are confident who ever is in the net.”
Both will have opportunities to move up to the college hockey ranks next season, Brick relayed.
“Jackson has received calls from several (Division 3, National Collegiate Athletic Association) schools and continues to weigh his options,” Brick said of Hjelle.
“And Dom is looking at playing in the (Division 1, American Collegiate Hockey Association) next season but I know the boys over at (Division 2, ACHA) Sault College are pushing heavy for him,” Brick said of Boily.
Of note, Brick thinks enough of the 20-year old Boily that he traded 17-year old goalie Jonathan Lemaire, who is a signed, Ontario Hockey League prospect of the Sudbury Wolves, to Elliot Lake in exchange for Boily.
Meanwhile, over in Rayside Balfour, 2000 birth year goalie David Bowen has given the Canadians a net gain with a record of 14-4-0 with a 2.72 goals against average and .920 save percentage.
Bowen began this season with the Canadians before joining the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League for several weeks only to opt to return to Rayside Balfour. Bowen has also played in the Ontario Hockey League for Sudbury.
Across the International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie, Shane Brancato has been a workhorse goalie for the Michigan-based Soo Eagles.
Brancato, who has a 1999 birth date, has played the most minutes (2,150) of any NOJHL goalie this season and has made the most saves (1,276.) The likeable, personable Brancato has a record of 18-16-2 to go with a 2.85 goals average and .920 save percentage on an Eagles team that is in fourth place in the West Division.
Bruno Bragagnolo, who is the long-time general manager of the Eagles, is a big fan of Brancato’s.
“Shane gives us a chance to win every game,” Bragagnolo noted during a recent edition of the Hockey North Show, which airs weekly on Sault Ste. Marie radio station ESPN 1400. “And really, you can’t ask for anything more from your goalie.”
Bragagnolo, a former goalie himself during his playing days of more than 40 years ago, added that Brancato’s athleticism and conditioning level only adds to what the slender tender brings to the Eagles.
“He loves to play and he can handle the heavy workload,” Bragagnolo said of Brancato. “He can play three games on a weekend and not get tired. I think if it was up to Shane he would play every game.”
Eagles head coach Doug Laprade also made mention of Brancato’s athleticism, noting that his no. 1 goalie “is probably the best all around athlete on our team. I mean, this is a kid who is just over six feet tall but he can dunk a basketball.”
Meanwhile, Brancato’s family advisor, David Maciuk of JDM Sports, noted that his client has several offers from top Division 3, NCAA schools for next season. And Maciuk said there has even been some interest shown in Brancato from schools at the Division 1, NCAA level.
“He can play Division 1 if given the opportunity,” Maciuk said of Brancato. “Like I said, I have had D1 schools ask about Shane. It’s all about the right fit, whether it’s Division 3 or Division 1. And it’s also about getting a good education combined with playing at a good NCAA school.”
PHOTO: Blind River Beavers goalie Jackson Hjelle, in action against the Soo Eagles.