Since the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League began 2020-2021 regular season play back on November 13, a total of 44 games have been scheduled.
Of the 44, only three were not played relative to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is worth noting that all three games were postponed by the NOJHL itself as precautionary measures — with not a single player, coach or official testing positive for the virus.
To be sure, in an amateur hockey nation where many leagues have yet to even begin the playing of games or have had their planned starts to the season delayed, the NOJHL has passed the public health exams with flying colours and governed itself in a safe and healthy manner.
Which, with 41 of the 44 scheduled games having been played to date while adhering to the strict rules of the various public health units of northeastern Ontario, the NOJHL has clearly been passing the test with its modified form of play which involves cohort opponents.
As an example in the West Division, the Espanola Express has managed to play all 10 of its regularly scheduled games to date — six against the French River Rapids and four more versus the Soo Thunderbirds.
And as an East Division example, the Hearst Lumberjacks have played all 12 of their regularly scheduled games thus far — six against the Cochrane Crunch and six more versus the Timmins Rock.
With responsible leadership from commissioner Rob Mazzuca and his staff and adhering to public health rules from the nine member teams that have been active, the NOJHL has emerged as a model of a junior hockey league in these trying times of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, as the 40-plus 2020 games have been played and the 2021 portion of the schedule slated to get underway at some point in January, there have been a number of notable performances by teams and players to date.
• Timmins not only took a league best record of 9-3-0 into the holiday break but the Rock has allowed just 24 goals in the 12 games. Time tested Timmins twine tender Ty Masternak is having an another scintillating season so far with a 7-1-0 record, 1.48 goals against average and .938 save percentage.
• Scoring wise, another Timmins veteran, sensational forward Derek Seguin, is leading the NOJHL with 12 goals in 12 games.
• Two small market teams are atop the standings of the West Division. Blind River Beavers have a record of 5-3-0 in eight games while the youthful Espanola Express has a 4-4-2 mark through 10 outings. Espanola won only 17 of 56 regular season games in 2019-2020 and has never posted a winning record since entering the NOJHL as an expansion team in 2015-2016.
• Several of the youngest of rookie players in the NOJHL — those with 2004 birth dates — have put up some really good numbers thus far. For example, forward Devin Mauro is third on the Blind River scoring chart with three goals, eight assists, 11 points and Luke Bibby is tied for third in goals on Espanola with five. Meanwhile, defenseman Connor Toms leads the Soo Thunderbirds in scoring with two goals, seven assists, nine points and forward Tyson Doucette is right behind with three goals, three assists, six points. Mauro (Sudbury Wolves), Bibby (Owen Sound Attack) and Toms (Soo Greyhounds) were all Ontario Hockey League priority selection draft picks in 2020.
• Espanola’s top three point producers are all 2003 birth year forwards from the Sudbury area — and all are OHL priority selection draft picks from 2019. The talented troika is made up of Cameron Walker, Bradley Brunet and Devon Savignac. Walker is the scoring leader with seven goals, five assists, 12 points while Brunet is right there with 5-7-12 numbers and Savignac just behind with 6-5-11 totals. Walker is the OHL property of the Kingston Frontenacs, Brunet belongs to the Niagara Ice Dogs and Savignac is a prospect of the North Bay Battalion.