Junior A level hockey leagues across Canada are closed for registry business until June 1.
Which, as an example, means that teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League can’t officially announce any new player transactions until June 1.
But, as they should be, NOJHL coaches and general managers will no doubt be busy throughout the month of May working on potential player recruitment and trades ahead of June 1.
To be sure, the off season is the busiest of times relative to player signings, commitments and trades in the junior hockey world.
As an example of transactions alone, NOJHL teams combined to make more than 40 trades well before the start of the recent 2020-2021 season.
Notably, trades are often made with teams outside the NOJHL.
For example, during the 2020 off season, the Soo Thunderbirds acquired star goalie Alex Bugeja from the Fort Frances Lakers of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League while also obtaining standout defenseman Cameron Dutkiewicz from the Renfrew Timberwolves of the Central Canada 2 Hockey League.
NOJHL teams also traded within the league during the last off season, primary examples being the Espanola Express obtaining top forward Devon Savignac from the Blind River Beavers for a player development fee and acquiring James Eng from the French River Rapids for Jayden Parnell in an exchange of forwards.
And now, as the spring of 2021 heads towards the summer and then to the planned start of the 2021-2022 campaign in the fall, NOJHL hockey bosses are, without question, recruiting and talking trade both within the league and outside of it.
There are general managers and coaches who have just been hired by their respective teams who are already at work building towards next season. Included in that group are GM Jamie Henderson and coach Cole Jarrett of the Soo Thunderbirds, GM John Buchanan and coach Brian Noad of the revived and rebranded Elliot Lake Red Wings, and coach-GM Brandon Perry of the Timmins Rock.
Henderson, who previously worked for the Thunderbirds as an assistant coach and assistant manager during their championship seasons of several years ago and who will continue to coach the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, has been settling in to his new post as the T-Birds GM.
And Henderson told Hockey News North that if any player from last season’s Thunderbirds wants to be traded to another team in the NOJHL or to another Canadian junior league, he will not stand in their way.
“We want kids who want to be here,” Henderson simply stated.
Meanwhile, down the road from the Soo to Blind River, Beavers coach and GM Kyle Brick may be faced with moving forwards Justin Mauro and Devin Mauro.
While Brick said he has commitments from 8-10 players to return for the 2021-2022 season including hard working forward Nick Jameus and no. 1 goalie Gavin Disano, the Mauro brothers have made no such pledge.
When asked about trading the Mauro boys — Justin has a 2002 birth date and Devin was born in 2004 — Brick, much like Henderson in the Soo, noted that “we want players who want to be in Blind River. Having said that, we are not just going to give any player away without getting a player or the player development fee in return.”
Notably, the Mauro brothers are both Sault Ste. Marie residents as are committed returnees to Blind River, the aforementioned Jameus and Disano.
The 5-foot-8, 160 pound Jameus was a reliable performer for the Beavers through the 18 games that he played in the abbreviated 2020-2021 season. Used mainly as a shutdown forward, Jameus came through with one goal, eight assists, nine points.
“I expect Nick can come in and be our no. 1 center this season,” Brick said of the now 19-year old Jameus. “He is a good kid and there is no question of his skill level and ability.”
Meanwhile, the 5-foot-9, 185 pound Disano faced a slew of shots in becoming a workhorse between the pipes for Blind River and becoming its no. 1 goalie as a rookie.
Signed by the Beavers prior to the start of the 2020-2021 NOJHL season after a year with the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, the soon to be 18-year old Disano posted a 6-4-1 record on a Blind River team that finished with a 9-11-1 mark.
Disano’s 6-4-1 record, .891 save percentage and goals against average of 4.53 did not tell the whole tale of what the young goalie faced in the Beavers net.
That is, in 689 minutes of action, Disano faced a whopping 478 shots, which tallies up to a per game average of almost 42 shots per 60 minutes. Plus, Blind River played the last seven games of the season with just two regular defensemen due to injuries and suspensions.
And Brick, as the coach and GM, welcomes the return of Disano as the Beavers starter for next season.
“He is a quiet kid, a really good kid who doesn’t say much. There are a lot of qualities that Gavin has that really stand out,” Brick told Hockey News North. “His preparation, approach and focus during practices and games are off the charts.”
As for what lies ahead through this month and over the course of the summer, Brick said he has already started recruiting players to play in Blind River next season.
“I have been making some phone calls and watching some video regarding players who could help us next season. It is kind of tricky right now because we don’t know what lies ahead … will there be body contact when we return to play next season and will the (Canada-United States) border be open are questions that, right now, we don’t know the answers to,” Brick pointed out.