Up early in the NOJHL

Randy Russon
September 26, 2017

A trio of small-market teams — French River Rapids, Blind River Beavers and Powassan Voodoos — have five wins apiece in the early going of the 2017-2018 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League season. And let us not overlook the rebound that the Michigan Soo Eagles have managed.

French River, which has a league-best 11 points from a record of 5-1-1, defines “team turnaround” from last season to this.

Indeed, the Rapids won just 3 of 56 games in 2016-2017, which led to wholesale changes within the organization, beginning at the top with new president Paul Frustaglio and behind the bench with Ken Strong taking the reins.

To put things into perspective, French River does lead 5-2-0 Blind River and 5-1-0 Powassan by just a single point atop the overall standings of the 12-team NOJHL. But from where the Rapids were their first two seasons in the league to where they have risen at this stage of the 2017-2018 campaign is both notable and encouraging.

As for Blind River, this is the second season of the Kyle Brick coaching regime and the reigning West Division championship Beavers are certainly showing early-season promise led by rookie goalie Garret Boyonoski and homegrown, sophomore forward Caleb Serre.

Powassan, meanwhile, is off to a good start at defending its NOJHL crown under first-year head coach Beau Moyer, who did nothing but win and develop high draft picks for the Ontario Hockey League as the bench boss of the minor midget Vaughan Kings of the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

Look for Moyer to advance to the OHL coaching ranks as an assistant in the not-too-distant future.

Soo Eagles, meanwhile, have shrugged off an 0-2-0 start to the season to reel off two straight victories. The Eagles drubbed the skidding Elliot Lake Wildcats 9-1 before routing the Espanola Express 10-1.

Eagles rookie forward Nick Techel has 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points in four games while first-year goalie Carter McPhail has sparkled with a 2-0-0 record, 0.86 goals against average and .967 save percentage.

And there are those inside and just outside the scene who say Eagles bench boss Jim Capy is doing some of the best coaching of his lengthy NOJHL career that has included previous stops with the Soo Thunderbirds, Blind River Beavers (twice) and the erstwhile Soo Indians.

The Eagles have only two returning players from the 2016-2017 season but some strong summer recruiting by hard-working, veteran general manager Bruno Bragagnolo has resulted in a new and improved look in the Michigan Soo.

A few more words about Bragagnolo, who is one tough, old-school Italian.

Bragagnolo had both of his hips replaced — and at the same time, no less — during the summer but it barely slowed him down. In fact, within a few weeks of his surgery, Bragagnolo was driving himself back and forth from his off-season home in Chicago to the Eagles facility in the Michigan Soo.

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