It is no longer a junior league of last resorts. The Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League continues to attract, keep, and develop players for higher levels. It also features a bevy of good coaches and has solid ownership in the majority of its locales.
With Robert Mazzuca at the helm as a commissioner and nearing a decade on the job, the NOJHL has maintained a 12-team presence with players from across Canada and into the United States filling the rosters.
Among the impressive happenings from the current off-season include a number of veteran players who have opted to re-sign with their current NOJHL teams instead of seeking or taking advantage of opportunities under the umbrella of the Canadian Jr. Hockey League — or elsewhere.
Then there are Ontario Hockey League draft picks from last year and this who have chosen the NOJHL as the place to further develop. And as a team, the Powassan Voodoos have an envious working relationship with the OHL’s North Bay Battalion.
At the ownership level, Mark Burgess will assume control of the Rayside-Balfour Canadians ahead of the 2019-2020 season. A good, honest, hard-working, hard-driven businessman with a competitive side and a passion for the game of hockey, Burgess and his family operated the Sudbury Wolves for 25 years and had them near the top of the OHL attendance and marketing charts for a good portion of that time.
Overall, attendance is rather good in the NOJHL. Timmins Rock brings out the most fans to the rink and the Hearst Lumberjacks and Soo Eagles are not far behind. Meanwhile, attendance and support holds steady in smaller-market towns such as Blind River and Espanola.
To be sure, there are issues within the NOJHL. But no junior hockey league is without bumps in the road, issues to overcome and problems both big and small.
The prove in the pudding of how the NOJHL has evolved is the number of franchises, good owners and good coaches that it manages to retain while at the same time making the league attractive for players from all over the hockey map.