Opening week in the NOJHL

Randy Russon
September 6, 2017

First pucks drop on a number of Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League rinks this week as regular-season play begins in the 12-member loop.

Rayside-Balfour Canadians will usher in the 2017-2018 campaign on Thursday night when they play host to the Elliot Lake Wildcats.

A source of new excitement looms on Friday evening when the Hearst Lumberjacks make their NOJHL debut against the visiting Soo Thunderbirds.

Another Friday night game of note involves North Shore rivals as the Espanola Express plays host to the Blind River Beavers.

Yet another Friday night feature has the Timmins Rock home to the French River Rapids.

And what is a Saturday night in early September without junior hockey?

Saturday contests include home openers for the Cochrane Crunch, Soo Eagles and Blind River Beavers.

A new season generally brings with it fresh thinking, positive expectations and optimism — and the NOJHL is no exception. As the league has grown to 12 teams over the past few years it has attracted better players from throughout Canada and the United States.

To be sure, there are story lines waiting to be written in what has become a hotly-contested, high-energy, well-operated league.

In Sault Ste. Marie, the so-called Border Battle between the Ontario-based Thunderbirds and Michigan-based Eagles has more than lived up to its hype over the years.

A year ago, the West Division-winning Thunderbirds seemed poised to continue their dominance of the fourth-seeded Eagles once the playoffs got going. But in a stunning upset, the Eagles out-hustled and out-played the Thunderbirds en route to a four-game sweep.

Both teams are in a transition of sorts this season.

Long-time head coach Jordan Smith has moved on from the Thunderbirds to the Ontario Hockey League as associate coach of the Sudbury Wolves. Smith’s replacement is the affable, reputable John Parco, a former OHL scoring star and pro hockey champion as a player and coach from his years in Italy.

And after their trip to the West Division finals last spring, the Eagles will be a much-younger team this season though they are returning top scorers and team leaders in forwards Jake Palmerio and Jake Saxton, not to mention the time-honoured coaching duo of Bruno Bragagnolo and Jim Capy.

Up in Timmins, a story waiting to happen is how the Rock will move forward with a new-look board room and new coach and general manager.

Long-time president Scott Marshall has scooted out of Timmins and the iconic Paul Gagne has retired as coach-general manager. The refreshing Ted Gooch is the new president, Kevin Peever has taken over as GM and Corey Beer has moved in from the Ontario Jr. Hockey League to become coach of the Rock.

There are many stories that await. Some will be liked, some won’t be and there will be threats of advertising being cancelled by those who can’t handle the truth.

Oh well.

Another season in one of my favourite leagues is set to begin.

Get your tickets, support your hometown team and keep reading, please and thank you.

What you think about “Opening week in the NOJHL”

  1. An exciting week for sure! I hope all barns are filled with excited fans! I am anxious to see numbers of attendance for The Rock and The Lumberjacks! It’s awesome for the players to play in an atmosphere like that!! Exhibition numbers were impressive!! I’m hoping Lenny and maybe KL draw some fans from the Falls as well! Looking forward to watching some good hockey! Keep the stories coming Randy Russon!

  2. Looking forward to another great year of NOJHL and Hockey News North. Thanks Randy Russon for the awesome job you do covering hockey in Northern Ontario.

  3. Prediction for east and west
    1. Voodoos run away with division
    2. Kirkland Lake “2nd to 4th” separated by a few points
    3. Cochran
    4. Hearst
    5. French River ” .500 and competitive”
    6. Timmins ” re-build”

    1. Soo thunderbirds “1st to 3rd very tight”
    2. Soo eagles
    3. Blind River
    4. Elliot Lake ” 4th and 5th very close
    5. Sudbury
    6. Espanola “not enough scouting and too expensive to play”

    1. “too expensive to play”? You’re right on that one. I checked out the team fees of the now-defunct Iroquois Falls Eskis and it was astronomically expensive and back in the late 90’s early 2000’s it costed $400 a year minimum to play and sponsors backed the teams pretty good.

      1. I can’t Imagine how the teams who didn’t have even close to the same numbers at the gate as I.F survived back then. I don’t recall any players paying a dime back in the early 2000s. North bay players were actually making money. Wild how the times have changed. That been said, thr league is better then it has ever been right now. I love following it. Won’t be the same without I. F but Hearst looks like a great addition . Kudos to your continued support over the years Randy . Looking forward to reading more articles on my favourite jr league.

  4. Voodoo management has done a good job of assembling a competitive team and it doesn’t hurt that they are affiliated with the Battalion. It has allowed some of their players to play with the Troops when the need arose and it allowed the Battalion to place some of their draft picks in Powassan to get more playing time. It would benefit the ‘A’ clubs in Sudbury and the Soo to have a similar arrangement with their O neighbours but at the same time, it disadvantages the NOJHL clubs that can not affiliate with nearby OHL teams.

  5. Only a few teams make any money the rest lose $$. The only way they can keep afloat is to charge the players. Same goes for the AAA midget teams cost those kids major dollars to play also. It’s either charge the players or you don’t have a team. Sad

  6. A big hockey fan from Port Huron, MI. Enjoy reading your articles. I’m excited to see our FHL team signed Yianni Liarokis from Blind River-put up great numbers in the NOJHL last year.

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