NOJHL at the gate, on the ice

Randy Russon
December 3, 2018

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.

What you think about “NOJHL at the gate, on the ice”

  1. I think the sault is a one horse town. Back in the day we had a jr b league soo rapids and the noha jr a league. And the same thing happen then. The jr b rapids ha d a good team and the league was good to . But no fan support . More fan support for the noha greyhounds. So i guess theres no change over the years for another team fan support .

  2. You mentioned the hounds and perhaps you’re underestimating their impact . ..while the hounds draw very well, it can be costly and time consuming… if a family goes to a hounds game Friday night and Sunday afternoon… how does one market the Tbirds to that same family to go to the Rhodes on Saturday night? .
    I’m not knocking , t birds or the NOJHL, it’s good hockey and there is good parity in the league now… t birds should hire a marketing student who goes to school around here, or as you said … be more community friendly.

  3. In some cases such as the manitoulin game and Rayside the attendance numbers seem to be bumped up. i was at the game in manitoulin and actually did a rough count. 310 give or take. rayside is way off! Have been to many game and as a Rayside fan it is disappointing to see how nobody is showing up. Less than 100 on nights I have been but on those nights Ive seen it reported as 225 plus. teams should have to submit proper numbers.

  4. For the Thunderbirds, it is not possible to schedule a hockey double-header with the Greyhounds on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon? One of my best days of watching hockey, years ago, was watching the Marlies-67s play at MLG in the afternoon followed by the Leafs-Islanders at night.

  5. I believe it is a price point issue. As is the Thunderbirds are pricing themselves out of this. If I go to the game as a family of 4 the cost is $34. I can buy a Wednesday night Family pass for the Greyhounds for $67 and it comes with 4 popcorns and 4 pops. The price a few years back was $10 for adults and kids were free. We never missed a game at home.

  6. Must add my recollections to your interesting doubleheader comment, Ian.
    Back in the day, my best friend and I went with his father to the Jr. A doubleheader at MLG. Toronto supported two teams then, the Marlies and St. Mikes, who each played a different opponent on some Saturday afternoons.
    (My memory could be off a touch, but I’m pretty sure it was a Saturday event,
    being before the advent of Sunday sports in ‘Toronto the good’.)
    Anyway, fond recollections. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *