Potential NOJHL expansion

Randy Russon
February 3, 2018

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.

What you think about “Potential NOJHL expansion”

  1. Good luck anyone willing to pay 100k for a new or existing franchise. There are only a few teams that has a market that can sustain the 100k price tag. You would need a community or owner that would be willing to subsidize the team financially every year. In theory, raising franchise value was a good thing, problem is under current league budget and expenses it doesn’t add up. Team financial responsibilities are much too expensive to be sustainable long term.?

  2. Was referring to team financial responsibilities to the league to pay league staff and programs.

  3. I feel that the two six divsion teams are good enough . A couple of teams need player help but the teams are very close in the standings. .

  4. I for one consider growth positive thing. Twenty years ago I saw the potential benefits to our town when the Timmins Golden Bears moved to Iroquois Falls. We started supporting them right away. The Igloo is the best venue for a Hockey game in the league, and the Midget Eskimos are enjoying their premier role as flagship team for this Hockey Factory. When I go out to my weekly fix on Tuesday nights I see the same crowd supporting the Midgets that went to the Eskis’ games. This town and this rink needs a Junior team back. I am pretty sure that if this expansion is allowed, Iroquois Falls will return to being the best Hockey destination in the league.

    1. I couldn’t have said it better myself…John…And the majority of the town of Iroquois falls …..i am prettty sure, agrees. !!!

  5. Do you think NOJHL is going to work out in Sudbury? Let not forget how the team won bids to host the 2013 and 2016 Dudley-Hewitt Cup only to back out. I see the NOJHL working out in Iroquois Falls for sure.

  6. I don’t see how some of the excisting teams stay afloat with the small fan base. Never mind expansion how long can some of these teams keep going?

  7. Not sure about the viability in Iroquois Falls. Without the support of corporate sponsors (what’s left in IF?) the team would be bleeding money…and quickly.

  8. I was hoping that Parry Sound would re-enter the NOJHL, but with a minimal travel schedule. A market that had to leave the league for the OPJHL to cut down on travel folded because of financial problems three years after switching leagues.

    Team names for the Parry Sound franchise. Mariners, Shamrocks, Rivermen, Bruins, or even the Islanders (the last name of the GMHL franchise)

    1. Shamrocks will always be the top choice I believe. Lot of history there with players from the Soo back in the day. Great town, great memories.

  9. Unfortunately Parry Sound started to have a lot of bad luck when they transferred from the NOJHL to the OPJHL in 1999 to save on travel costs. The team did poorly and couldn’t play up to the calibre of OPJHL hockey. In the final 2 seasonsin the NOJHL, the Shamrocks finished second and lost the final.

    Parry Sound has the community support and the arena. Minor hockey seems to be more important than a potential NOJHL team. The OHL won’t be interested in taking a team from Parry Sound because of their ridiculous financial requirements…

  10. Sturgeon Falls would be another prime expansion possibility. It doesn’t damage any other team’s travel budget and the population base is adequate but support there has always been an iffy thing.

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