It is not the Ontario Hockey League. But there are players aplenty who get to the OHL via the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
For those who haven’t noticed — and for those who are blinded by the bright lights of the southern Ontario junior A loops — the NOJHL is a really good league with really good players.
Just from one team alone — the Soo Thunderbirds — current OHLers who got there from the NOJHL include Soo Greyhounds star left winger Boris Katchouk, Kitchener Rangers standout goalie Mario Culina, Erie Otters recently-turned-pro defenceman Owen Headrick, Sudbury Wolves pepper pot forwards Darian Pilon and Drake Pilon and Guelph Storm rookie pivot Keegan Stevenson.
I have had a reputable OHL general manager in Dave Drinkill of Saginaw tell me how impressed he is with the NOJHL and how happy he is with the way top Spirit prospect Camaryn Baber has developed as a rookie centre with the Thunderbirds.
“We are beyond thrilled with how Cam has developed in the NOJHL and under a good coach such as John Parco,” Drinkill relayed to me a while back. “The NOJHL is good league.”
Why it is not more widely respected is mind-boggling.
I mean, you would think, having seen how many players that are developed by the NOJHL for the OHL, that there would be some level of interest shown by Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association schools, including the nearby Lake Superior State Lakers, Northern Michigan Wildcats and Michigan Tech Huskies.
Let’s be serious and honest and up front here.
That is, if a player from the NOJHL is good enough to make it to the OHL, then he is certainly good enough to play in the Division 1, Western Collegiate Hockey Association, of which Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech are all a part of.
Ah, Lake Superior State, which has two NOJHL teams (Soo Thunderbirds and Soo Eagles) within two miles of it and a third (Blind River Beavers) a mere hour-and-a-half away.
What is Lakers coach Damon Whitten — who has been at the helm of four straight losing seasons at Lake Superior State — thinking by turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to those who tell him over and over again how many good NOJHL players there are right in his own back yard?
What’s the old saying? You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
At any rate, the OHL does rather well by the NOJHL.
It’s just a pity that the WCHA — especially Lake Superior State — chooses not to.
I guess it’s just another loss for the Lakers.