A sportswiter’s smaze of smattering snippets:
First pucks will drop this week on four first-round playoff series in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
While there are clear-cut favourites in two of the series, it’s a case of pick ’em in the other two.
First-place Soo Thunderbirds figure to make quick work of eighth-place Blind River Beavers and second-place Kirkland Lake Gold Miners should dispose of seventh-place North Bay Trappers in minimum time.
But the matchups featuring third-place Espanola Rivermen against sixth-place Sudbury Nickel Barons and fourth-place Abitibi Eskimos versus fifth-place Elliot Lake Bobcats should take longer to play out.
Many NOJHL observers are of the notion that the Espanola-Sudbury and Abitibi-Elliot Lake series will both go six or seven games.
What is up for debate is which teams will emerge from the respective series.
Regardless of who triumphs, fans of all four teams are the likely winners from what have the appearances of two evenly-matched series.
THE MURRAY JURY
Soo Greyhounds goalie Matt Murray is somewhat of a polarizing figure among fans of the Ontario Hockey League team.
I have casually asked more than one Greyhound fan what they think of Murray, a National Hockey League draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins who is in his fourth OHL season in the Soo.
“Love him,” said one.
“Can’t stand him,” said another.
“Best goalie in the Western Conference,” said one.
“We should have traded Murray to Guelph and kept Justin Nichols,” said another.
Like him or not, the Greyhounds — who will enter the playoffs as the second seed in the 10-team Western Conference — will need Murray at the top of his game if they are going to win a series or two or three or more.
THE CUTHRELL EDGE
Winners of three of their last four games — all with goalie Paige Skoog tending the twine — Soo Eagles have flapped their way back into playoff contention in the North Division of the North American Hockey League.
With three weekends left in the NAHL regular season, four teams are battling for the third-and-fourth playoff spots in the North Division.
Only five points seperate the third, fourth, fifth and sixth-place teams in the North.
Johnston Tomahawks have 56 points, Janesville Jets have 55, the Soo has 53 and Springfield Jr. Blues have 51.
Johnstown, Soo and Springfield have all played 53 games, one more than Janesville.
From a Soo standpoint, if the Eagles are going to make it, they are going to need Skoog to give them the reliable goaltending that he has in the four games he has played since returning from a concussion injury that sidelined him for three months.
Offensively, the likes of Nick Belger, Scott Cuthrell, Matt Menta and Mike Sabatini will be counted on to bring their ‘A’ game over the final seven regular-season contests.
Cuthrell, to be sure, provides a cutting offensive edge.
The pint-sized pivot scored three goals in regulation time as the Eagles swept the Michigan Warriors with 3-2 and 6-2 victories at home last weekend.
Cuthrell also scored a shootout goal in the 3-2 win that was a sight to behold.
Skating straight at Michigan goalie Trevor Gorsuch, the speedy Cuthrell literally deked the Warriors netminder out of his crease before putting the puck in the net.
With due respect to his teammates, Cuthrell is seen as the smartest, most-skilled, most-dangerous player on the Eagles.