Timmins Rock continues to top the attendance chart in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League followed closely by the Hearst Lumberjacks and Michigan Soo Eagles. And while the Soo Thunderbirds have the best record in the 12-team NOJHL, they are a distant last in attendance.
First off, following is the per-game average attendance for the 12 NOJHL teams.
1. Timmins Rock, 742. 2. Hearst Lumberjacks, 702. 3. Michigan Soo Eagles, 611. 4. Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, 431. 5. Espanola Express, 334. 6. French River Rapids, 325. 7. Elliot Lake Wildcats, 295. 8. Cochrane Crunch, 266. 9. Blind River Beavers, 258. 10. Powassan Voodoos, 237. 11. Rayside-Balfour Canadians, 225. 12. Soo Thunderbirds, 150.
Perplexing is how the Thunderbirds, winners of eight straight games for a league-best record of 22-5-0, continue to draw little more than friends and family members of players to their home games at John Rhodes Community Centre.
The Thunderbirds are well-coached by world-class bench boss John Parco and have a natural, cross-border rivalry with the Michigan-based Eagles. The Thunderbirds also receive good media coverage in Sault Ste. Marie but for whatever reason, attendance continues to be the worst in the NOJHL.
I realize the Thunderbirds play in the same town as the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
But across the International Bridge, the Eagles play in the same town as the Lake Superior State Lakers of the Division 1, Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Yet, the Eagles out-draw the Thunderbirds by a four-to-one margin despite the fact that the Michigan Soo is about a fifth the size of Soo, Ontario.
Then again, the Eagles are a community-friendly team led by an active and visible, president-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo.
As for the Thunderbirds … ah, forget it.
Following are the up-to-date standings in the NOJHL by division.
EAST DIVISION: 1. Kirkland Lake, 21-8-1, 43 points. 2. Timmins, 19-11-1, 39 points. 3. Powassan, 18-11-1, 37 points. 4. Cochrane, 18-14-1, 37 points. 5. Hearst, 12-12-4, 28 points. 6. French River, 11-17-3, 25 points.
WEST DIVISION: 1. Soo Thunderbirds, 22-5-0, 44 points. 2. Rayside-Balfour 16-11-3, 35 points. 3. Blind River, 15-10-5, 35 points. 4. Soo Eagles, 12-16-1, 25 points. 5. Elliot Lake, 10-17-3, 23 points. 6. Espanola, 6-25-0, 12 points.
OF NOTE: Espanola played a neutral site game against visiting Cochrane at the Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands Recreation Centre in nearby Little Current last week and the match drew a reported 477 fans.