It was not that long ago — just a few years back, in fact — that the vast majority of head coaches in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League were seasonal, part-time workers.
In fact, a few of the head coaches were volunteers who worked for expenses only.
Nowadays, the NOJHL is a 12-team league. Most of the bench bosses are full-time — or at least full-time/part-time on a year-round basis.
Of further note, NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca is the full-time head of a league that once utilized bosses who were paid a very low, part-time wage.
Back to the coaches, as NOJHL teams employ full-time bench bosses who are paid accordingly, the league is able to attract better players. After all, the better the coaches are, the better the players who are attracted to the league.
Even the smallest of the small-market teams have a full-time hockey person on board.
For example, the Blind River Beavers employ Kyle Brick as their full-time coach and general manager. And it should be noted that in the three seasons that Brick has been with Blind River, the Beavers have gone from a last-place laughingstock to a legitimate contender in the West Division of the NOJHL.
Up in small-town Hearst, Marc Lafleur is the coach and general manager of the Lumberjacks, who placed first in the East Division during the 2018-2019 regular season. Lafleur has the experience of being an assistant coach in the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League and could still be there if he hadn’t opted to be a full-time coach and GM in the NOJHL.
In the Twin Soo market, both the Soo Thunderbirds and Soo Eagles have first-rate coaches in place.
Former Ontario Hockey League and European scoring star John Parco — who was also a championship coach at the pro level in Italy — is in his second season as an outstanding bench leader with the Thunderbirds.
How Parco is not coaching in the OHL is beyond me. At the very least, Parco is probably an equal — or even better — coach than just about any associate or assistant in the OHL.
Then there is Doug Laprade, who is in his first season with the Eagles.
Not only does Laprade — who owns an insurance bureau in the Michigan Soo — have a Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association championship from his days as a player, but he also won the big prize as an assistant coach. Both NCAA national championship teams that Laprade was a part of were the Lake Superior State Lakers.
Laprade can also count on championship coaching assistance from Eagles president and general manager Bruno Bragagnolo.
Bragagnolo coached the Eagles to the NOJHL championship during the 2010-2011 season and has been a mainstay with the franchise ever since. Before that, Bragagnolo won multiple championships as a coach with the reputable Chicago Young Americans AAA midget program.
The number of proven coaches in the NOJHL forms an impressive list.
Besides the ones already mentioned, there are the likes of Dan Cuomo of the Rayside Balfour Canadians, Dave Clancy of the Espanola Express, Corey Beer of the Timmins Rock, Ryan Leonard of the Cochrane Crunch and Ryan Wood of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
It is quite the coaches corner that the NOJHL boasts.