It has gone from a seven-team league to a 12-member loop in the span of about 10 years. And there is ongoing board room discussion that could lead the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League to expand by two more teams within the near future.
For starters, NOJHL governors have set the worth of any new franchise at $100,000. And the $100,000 figure is also the minimum that any existing franchise can be sold for.
At any rate, the NOJHL currently operates with a pair of six-team divisions.
Soo Eagles, Soo Thunderbirds, Blind River Beavers, Elliot Lake Wildcats, Espanola Express and Rayside-Balfour Canadians make up the West Division while the East Division is comprised of the French River Rapids, Powassan Voodoos, Timmins Rock, Cochrane Crunch, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Hearst Lumberjacks.
Teams play an unbalanced schedule based on the geography of the divisions and that helps to keep expenses in line in a league that has become more expensive for franchises to operate within over the past few years. Included in the increased costs over recent years are salaries to pay a full-time commissioner and multiple staff members.
As for possible expansion sites, the NOJHL could potentially see a return to both Sudbury and Iroquois Falls.
Sudbury has a successful, recent past under monikers such as the Northern Wolves, Jr. Wolves and Nickel Barons. And Iroquois Falls was always among the league attendance leaders until the Eskimos were sold by a rogue, out-of-town owner prior to the start of the 2017-2018 season and relocated to Hearst, where the Lumberjacks now operate under a reputable group of local business people.
If expansion is to go forward in the two aforementioned centers, Sudbury would join the West Division, Iroquois Falls would again be a part of the East Division and the NOJHL would be a 14-team league.
A prominent, reputable name that has been linked to a potential return of the NOJHL to Sudbury is that of Mark Burgess.
A very successful Sudbury business man, Burgess was the long-time owner of the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League before he and his family sold the franchise to Dario Zulich prior to the start of the 2016-2017 season.
A passionate and enthusiastic hockey fan, Burgess is no stranger to the NOJHL. When the Northern Wolves folded about 10 years ago, Burgess stepped up and bought the franchise, re-named it the Jr. Wolves and operated it along with his OHL team.
Not only does Burgess have pockets that are well lined, he truly loves hockey and misses being around the game that he has such a long association with. He is also known for his philanthropy and generous support of minor hockey in Greater Sudbury.
An NOJHL team in Sudbury would also reprise a legendary junior hockey rivalry with nearby Rayside-Balfour and limit travel and the expenses that go with it.
As for Iroquois Falls, the gritty northeastern Ontario town supported its beloved Eskimos for many years with an average attendance that put about 500 fans a game into venerable Jus Jordan Arena, aka the Igloo.
In fact, with no junior team to back this season, Iroquois Falls supports a single A midget team that reportedly out-draws nearby NOJHL teams in both Cochrane and Kirkland Lake at the gate.
To be sure, should Iroquois Falls get a new NOJHL team, it would be aided by a loyal, dedicated, hard-working group of community volunteers that would include long-time Eskimos billet captain Allison Madden-Blais.
Madden-Blais is just one of a bevy of good folks from good, old Iroquois Falls who would do anything they possibly could to assist an NOJHL team in volunteer capacities in the same manner as they did for the erstwhile Eskimos over a period of so many good years.