Winning, it has been duly noted, starts at the top. And that notion relates well to the Rayside Balfour Canadians of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
Two members of the Rayside Balfour management team have been recognized by the NOJHL with league awards.
Blaine Smith, who serves as the Canadians director and senior advisor, has won the Joe Drago Award as the NOJHL’s executive of the year.
And Jeff Forsyth has been named general manager of the NOJHL’s first all star team.
Smith worked in various high-level management positions with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League for more than 30 years, beginning when the aforementioned Joe Drago was a part owner of the franchise.
“I am honoured by being chosen by the NOJHL for the Joe Drago Award,” Smith relayed to Hockey News North. “Joe Drago was a mentor of mine when I broke into the OHL back in the early 1980s.”
Smith, who stayed on with the OHL Wolves when Drago and partners sold the team to the Burgess family in 1986, unceremoniously parted ways with current team owner Dario Zulich following the 2018-2019 season.
Smith then joined Rayside Balfour as director and senior advisor just prior to the start of the current 2019-2020 season after his old OHL Wolves boss, Mark Burgess, purchased the NOJHL Canadians.
The honest, likeable, down-to-earth Smith said he appreciates all that the NOJHL has to offer.
“I have really enjoyed working with the NOJHL executive and all of the dedicated owners and directors that make this league so great,” Smith noted. “I look forward to continuing to offer the NOJHL my years of junior hockey experience.”
In particular, Smith said he feels blessed to again be involved with the aforementioned Mark Burgess as part of the Rayside Balfour program, which finished atop the NOJHL’s West Division standings this season with 85 points from a record of 40-11-5.
“I walked into a great organization in Rayside Balfour as new team owner Mark Burgess having already assembled a great staff including the coaching staff and general manager Jeff Forsyth,” Smith pointed out.
“Jeff will be a GM in the OHL one day because he such a great recruiter. He is also very hard-working, honest and cares about his players.
“As for the others who help it in our front office, Brittany Zacerkowny has done such great work for the team including marketing, promotions and game day operations, along with team volunteer Julie Dubois.
“It is so nice working with all of the loyal genuine people that were already in place when I arrived with the Canadians,” Smith summed up.
Meantime, as the good guy owner of the NOJHL’s Rayside Balfour franchise, the philanthropic Mark Burgess sent an e-mail to Hockey News North, saying he wished to “congratulate both Blaine and Jeff on their awards.”