It’s early July. The snow from last winter is long gone, even in Cochrane and Timmins. Following a spring cleanup that swept through the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, summer is here.
There will be plenty of new personnel in place when first pucks drop on the 2017-2018 NOJHL season in early September.
In Timmins, the iconic Paul Gagne has retired as coach and general manager of the Rock and long-time team president Scott Marshall has also opted for a life of leisure. Kevin Peever has been appointed to assume Gagne’s GM duties, Corey Beer has been brought in from the Ontario Jr. Hockey League as the new head coach and Ted Gooch now sits in the president’s chair.
Change aplenty has taken place with the French River Rapids, who have finished last overall in each of their two seasons as part of the 12-team NOJHL. It is now a southern Ontario influence at the helm of the Rapids with Paul Frustaglio as president, Sherry Bassin as director of hockey operations and Ken Strong as head coach. Bassin, to be sure, needs no introduction as a legendary former general manager in the Ontario Hockey League who piloted three different franchises to championships — Oshawa Generals, Soo Greyhounds and Erie Otters.
New to the NOJHL are the Hearst Lumberjacks via ownership purchase and relocation from Iroquois Falls. Long-time Kirkland Lake Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur has returned to his home town of Hearst to take command of the Lumberjacks. To replace Lafleur, Kirkland Lake has brought in Ryan Wood from the Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League as its new coach and GM.
In Powassan, home of the reigning champion Voodoos, head coach Scott Wray has moved up to the OHL as an assistant to venerable Stan Butler with the nearby North Bay Battalion. Replacing Wray is Beau Moyer, who returns home to the area after seasons of success coaching the Vaughan Kings of the Greater Toronto Hockey League while scouting for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs.
Elsewhere, while status quo is being maintained in other centers, the show must go on and it has.
For example, Rayside-Balfour Canadians coach-general manager Dave Clancy has been a busy guy, signing a number of newcomers including four graduates of the Great North Midget Hockey League — goalie Matty Mayhew, defenseman Brandon Atkins and forward Brady Maltais of the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves and forward Cole Craft of the North Bay Trappers. While Clancy and the RBC hockey department will always look to all geographic areas for players, they maintain a mission of trying to sign as much high-end northern Ontario talent as possible.
And the NOJHL’s only Michigan-based franchise, the Soo Eagles, remain in good and experienced hands. The Eagles, who finished second on the NOJHL attendance chart in 2016-2017 — trailing only Timmins — continue to be led by general manager/associate coach Bruno Bragagnolo and his trusted bench boss Jim Capy. Between Bragagnolo and Capy there is more than 60 years of coaching experience that includes championship success. Meanwhile, the Eagles have added some youth to their holdover staff. Nick Perri has been hired by the Eagles to head up their new video and analytical department. The 21-year old Perri spent the 2016-2017 season as assistant coach and assistant general manager — with a focus on video and analytics — with the powerful Binghamton Jr. Senators of the 8-division, 48-team North American 3 Hockey League.
Over in Espanola, one of the good guys of the game, ageless coach Tommy McCarthy, returns to the Express after a year overseas. McCarthy has fallen in love with Espanola and the Rainbow Country area and his return bodes well for the Express, which will begin its third season of existence in 2017-2018. A former first-round pick to both the OHL and the National Hockey League, McCarthy is an older coach who relates very well to his players.