Twelve teams and two divisions define the makeup of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. First pucks will soon drop on the 2018-2019 NOJHL regular season and with that noted, here are a few snapshots and snippets to peruse, by division and by team, in alphabetical order.
Cochrane Crunch. The reigning NOJHL champions are poised for another lengthy season in that they will play host to — and participate in — next spring’s Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada championship tournament.
A perennial contender, this season should be no different for Cochrane, which is led by its always-competitive owner-general manager-coach Ryan Leonard.
Not only does the colourful Leonard talk a good game, he puts his effort and his money where his mouth is and invariably, the Crunch wins a lot more games than it loses.
The tireless Leonard also carries a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the NOJHL.
French River Rapids. Team president Paul Frustaglio went out and hired a new coach during the off season in former Ontario Hockey League defenseman Shawn Frappier.
The 43-year old Frappier takes the helm in French River with a coaching background that includes success and development within the Sudbury minor hockey system.
French River has missed the playoffs in each of its first three seasons in the NOJHL and Frappier is being entrusted with the task of improving the Rapids in the standings while developing their young players.
Among other notables, the Rapids have signed a pair of 2002 birth year forwards who were selected at the 2018 OHL draft — Oshawa Generals prospect Hunter Brazier and Sudbury Wolves pick Ryan Smith.
Hearst Lumberjacks. There is a determination from coach-general manager Marc Lafleur that the Lumberjacks will improve on their fourth-place finish from the 2017-2018 regular season and preliminary round exit in last spring’s playoffs.
Lafleur has relayed a quiet confidence that the Lumberjacks will be an East Division contender in their second year in Hearst in 2018-2019. And there is really no reason to doubt the former NOJHL coach of the year and league champion from his time in Kirkland Lake.
The Lumberjacks were a big hit at the gate in their first NOJHL season, averaging almost 700 fans per game and trailing only the Timmins Rock.
Kirkland Lake Gold Miners. This will mark the second season in Kirkland Lake for coach-general manager Ryan Wood, who guided the Gold Miners to a third place finish in 2017-2018 with a record above the .500 mark.
There is a new executive in place in Kirkland Lake and one area in which the Gold Miners will strive to improve on in 2018-2019 is the attendance chart. Kirkland Lake finished 10th overall in NOJHL attendance in 2017-2018.
Powassan Voodoos. After finishing first overall in the NOJHL standings in 2017-2018, the Voodoos were stunned in the East Division playoffs by the fifth-place Timmins Rock, which had finished 50 points back of Powassan during the regular season.
The Voodoos count on a healthy affiliation with the North Bay Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League and the North Bay Trappers of the Great North Midget Hockey League.
Timmins Rock. Up and coming young coach Corey Beer returns for a second season as the bench boss of the Rock after engineering that major playoff upset of Powassan last spring.
Among the notable newcomers to the Timmins NOJHLers for the 2018-2019 season are a trio of youngsters from the Timmins Majors of the Great North Midget Hockey League in forwards Austin Holmes, Riley Brousseau and Cameron Chisholm.
By the way, the Rock will be out to defend its status as the NOJHL attendance leaders this season, having topped the 800 mark in 2017-2018.
Blind River Beavers. Coach-general manager Kyle Brick has set the bar high through his first two seasons in Blind River and the Beavers have responded with the most success they have had in an NOJHL franchise history that dates back to 1999.
The epitome of small market success, the Beavers head into the 2018-2019 season with only a handful of returnees from 2017-2018.
But as the coach and GM, Brick likes what an off-season of recruiting has brought to Blind River through the efforts of assistant general manager Craig MacDonald and his scouting staff. MacDonald, to be sure, is one of the hardest working individuals in the NOJHL.
On the ice, captain, scoring leader and Blind River product Caleb Serre returns for a third season with the Beavers as one of the more exciting, creative players in the NOJHL as a small, albeit skilled and speedy forward.
New to Blind River for the 2017-2018 season is another speed merchant forward in Justin Mauro.
Mauro, who has a 2002 birth date, was picked by the Erie Otters in the 15th round of the 2018 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft from the Soo Minor Midget Thunderbirds of the Great North Midget Hockey League.
A Sault Ste. Marie product, the 5-foot-5, 135-pound Mauro led the Soo minor midgets in scoring over the course of the 2017-2018 Great North season.
In 22 games, the speedy Mauro netted 9 goals, 7 assists, 16 points on a Soo team that won only two of 24 regular season matches.
Elliot Lake Wildcats. This will mark the third season as the hockey boss in Elliot Lake for coach-general manager Corey Bricknell.
The 42-year old Bricknell, a former defenseman and assistant coach in the Ontario Hockey League, has yet to take Elliot Lake past fifth place in the regular season or out of the preliminary round of the playoffs in two years with the Wildcats.
Elliot Lake has a new look to its executive for the 2018-2019 season as the Wildcats look to build on their presence in the gritty town of Elliot Lake that has a lengthy junior hockey history.
Espanola Express. Veteran coach, general manager and scout Dave Clancy is back in the NOJHL as the new bench boss in Espanola.
The no-nonsense, albeit affable Clancy has boarded the Express and taken over from fellow NOJHL veteran Tom McCarthy as the new head coach in Espanola.
Under McCarthy, the Express finished last overall in the 12-team NOJHL in 2017-2018 and missed the playoffs for a second successive season.
Clancy, who most-recently coached in the NOJHL for the Rayside-Balfour Canadians over parts of the past two seasons, brings a tidy and impressive resume to Espanola.
He has had championship success in the NOJHL as coach and general manager of the erstwhile Sudbury Junior Wolves. Clancy has also coached the Laurentian Voyageurs of Ontario University Athletics.
Known as a trustworthy, honest individual, Clancy also has a scouting past as a regional scout with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League.
Clancy has teamed with Espanola general manager Chad Clarke to sign a number of promising players during the off season as the Express looks to get back on the right train track.
Rayside Balfour Canadians. There are new personnel in place at the helm of the reigning West Division champion Canadians.
Tim Armstrong takes over as the Canadians director of hockey operations while career coach Dan Cuomo is the new bench boss in Rayside Balfour.
Steve Lauzon, who was the Canadians head coach in 2017-2018, will be Cuomo’s assistant in 2018-2019.
Armstrong most recently served as an NOJHL supervisor while Cuomo joins the Canadians after coaching in Europe for the past three decades in various capacities and at different levels of competition.
Cuomo was also the European scout for the Sudbury Wolves from 2011 to 2016 when Mark Burgess was the owner of the Ontario Hockey League team.
On the ice, 20-year old, hard-nosed captain Evan Krassey returns to lead Rayside Balfour as one of the bigger, better, all around forwards in the NOJHL.
Soo Eagles. Doug Laprade has taken over from the retired Jim Capy as head coach of the Eagles while assistant coach Nick Perri has earned a promotion to the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League.
During the off-season, the Michigan-based Eagles swooped down on the backyard pond of the arch-rival, cross-river Soo Thunderbirds and came away with three high-end recruits from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in forwards Caleb Wood, Raf Praysner and Owen Shier.
The additions of Laprade as head coach and Wood, Praysner and Shier as rookie forwards are major acquisitions for veteran general manager Bruno Bragagnolo and the Eagles.
The 49-year old Laprade was part of Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association championship teams as both a player and assistant coach with the Lake Superior State Lakers. He is also a former National Hockey League draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings.
Soo Thunderbirds. A foursome of local skaters including forwards Noah Boman, Avery Rebek and Camden Findlay and defenseman Nate Medaglia head a list of newcomers to second year head coach John Parco’s Thunderbirds.
Boman returns home after playing for the Niagara Falls Canucks of the Greater Ontario Jr. Hockey League in 2017-2018.
Rebek and Findlay both played for the Soo Greyhounds (now known as the Soo Major Midget Thunderbirds) of the Great North Midget Hockey League in 2017-2018 while Medaglia suited up for the high school hockey champion St. Mary’s Knights.
Of note, Rebek led the Soo major midgets in scoring in 2017-2018 with 19 goals, 14 assists, 33 points in 36 regular season matches.
PHOTO: Blind River Beavers rookie Justin Mauro, at the training camp of the OHL’s Erie Otters.