Soo Thunderbirds and Kirkland Lake Gold Miners are waging war for first place in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League…Make that two players who have left the Blind River Beavers of the NOJHL for the new Canadian International Hockey League…The CIHL is in the midst of major change and the Batchewana Attack just keeps on winning…And the MC Monarchs of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League boast an ultimate trio of skaters.
BIRDS OF THE NORTH
Soo Thunderbirds have a record of 16-2-2 and — just like the 2013-2014 season — are waging a battle for first place in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
Kirkland Lake has a record of 16-3 and is 2 points back of the Soo with a game in hand.
The Thunderbirds have three forwards who have already scored 12 or more goals — Nic Tassone, Jaren Bellini and rookie Nic Sicoly — and a first-year goalie in Mario Culina who is among the best in the nine-team NOJHL.
In fact, the rookie Culina has a save percentage and goals against average that are significantly better than the Thunderbirds holdover goalie, Brian Kment.
EXIT, BLIND RIVER
The NOJHL has a problem along Highway 17 at Blind River.
The Beavers are winless through 19 games with a record of 0-18-1 and have scored only 35 goals while giving up 135.
There are unhappy players in Blind River and just last week two forwards — Chris Zajac and Dallas Miller — walked out on the Beavers to join teams in the new Canadian International Hockey League.
Zajac is now with the Batchewana Attack of the CIHL while Miller has signed with the St. Charles Spirit.
The new Ontario-based, junior-level, CIHL has expanded into Michigan — in the midst of a season, no less.
CIHL president and founder Tim Clayden has confirmed that the Kalkaska Rhinos have joined the new league, effective immediately.
Kalkaska, which began this season as an independent team, is owned, managed and coached by former National Hockey League enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa.
The maverick Clayden, who also owns the successful Espanola Rivermen of the CIHL, said the addition of Kalkaska means the now nine-team league will re-work its regular-season schedule while coming up with a plan regarding a playoff format for next spring.
The CIHL has also opted to depart the United Hockey Union, which operates under the umbrella of the Amateur Athletic Union, and partner with a Toronto-based insurance firm as members of the Canadian International Amateur Hockey Federation.
Batchewana Attack of the CIHL remains unbeaten with a record of 10-0.
Coached by former NHL journeyman and erstwhile Soo Greyhounds (Ontario Hockey League) player and coach Denny Lambert, the Attack has scored 70 goals in its 10 wins while allowing only 14.
Leading the way offensively for Batchewana has been the twin-brother duo of Sault Ste. Marie products Darian Pilon and Drake Pilon, who are 1-2 on the Attack in scoring.
Hustling, hardworking, skilled forwards, the Pilons — who have 1998 birth dates — are destined to move up the hockey ladder in the years ahead.
Others from the Soo area who have been top-end scorers for Batchewana thus far this 2014-2015 season are forwards Jacob Palmerio, Jason Uhl and Jesse Delavalle.
By the way, the CIHL has upgraded its website after going through a few issues and now has updated league, team and player statistics via cihlhockey.net.
Traverse City Hounds have a record of 13-0-1 and are in first place in the Midwest Jr. Hockey League but the defending champions are not the only top story so far this 2014-2015 season.
The expansion, Michigan-based, MC Monarchs are in second place with a record of 11-5 and feature the top two scorers in the MWJHL plus its leading defenceman.
Adam Jonak, a 5-foot-9, 150 pound forward from the Czech Republic, leads the MWJHL in scoring with 23 goals, 34 assists, 57 points in 16 games.
Second behind Jonak is Monarchs rookie Trevor Pode, a 6-foot-2, 180 pound forward from St. Clair Shores. Pode has 19 goals, 26 assists, 45 points in 16 games.
And leading all MWJHL defenceman in scoring is Jarrad Vroman, a 6-foot-4, 180 pounder who hails from Lincoln Park. Vroman has 3 goals, 22 assists, 25 points in 15 games.
Jonak is a 1994 birth year while Pode was born in 1996 and Vroman in 1997.
PHOTO: Jarrad Vroman, Adam Jonak and Trevor Pode (left to right) of the MWJHL’s MC Monarchs.