On the Ontario Hockey League hot seat…High and low in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League…Here and there and around the rinks…
WOLVES ON WATCH
There is a prevailing notion within OHL circles that the last-place Sudbury Wolves are poised to fire head coach Paul Fixter and trade high-scoring 19-year old forward Nick Baptiste, who tallied 45 goals last season.
Not so fast.
For starters, Fixter is only 13 games into the second season of a three-year contract that reportedly pays him in excess of $100,000 per annum. Firing him now means Wolves owner Mark Burgess would be on the hook to pay Fixter more than $175,000 to not coach.
There’s also the fact that despite a record of 1-12 (which includes 12 straight losses) the Wolves are only five points out of the eighth-and-final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 45 games still to play.
Having said that, coaches are judged by their win-loss record and Fixter is 1-12 to start this season after the Wolves were upset in the first round of last spring’s playoffs.
Wolves president-general manager Blaine Smith is not known as a man who panics or who is pressured into making hasty decisions.
Still, Smith has a boss to answer to and that boss is Burgess, who despite being a generous owner who is loyal to his employees and pays them well, does not like to lose.
While there are those who feel that Fixter’s days in Sudbury are numbered, I am not so sure. Then again, I am not Burgess or Smith and even though I like them and respect them as good men with good intentions, they are not paying Fixter big bucks to be 1-12.
The Wolves play three games in three days this weekend — at home to the Sarnia Sting and on the road to face the Niagara IceDogs and London Knights.
Maybe this is the weekend that overage forwards Nathan Pancel and Brody Silk break out of their scoring slumps and the Wolves put two or three points up on the standings board.
As for Baptiste, the Wolves veteran forward who has been the subject of trade rumours — Soo Greyhounds are one team that wants the big right winger — I would be surprised to see him depart Sudbury any time soon.
Baptiste just returned from injury and has 2 goals in 2 games. If the Wolves do move Baptiste, I doubt that it will be now when he would command a much-greater return at the OHL trade deadline.
BIRDS AND BEAVERS
The good news within the NOJHL is that the Soo Thunderbirds have won 11 straight games and have the league’s best record at 13-2 heading into play this week.
The bad news is that the Blind River Beavers have a record of 0-16-1 and have scored just 32 goals while having allowed a whopping 132.
To be sure, with Kevin Cain at the helm as general manager, the Thunderbirds are an NOJHL contender for the fifth straight season. Cain knows how to piece together a team, whether it’s adding a 20-year old forward such as Nic Tassone or a 16-year old front-liner such as Nic Sicoly, who are 1-2 on the Thunderbirds in scoring this season.
On the flip side is Blind River.
Oh, those Beavers.
It pains me that the Beavers have fallen on such hard times as it wasn’t too long ago that the NOJHL’s smallest-market team was posting winning records under former coaches Jim Capy and Todd Stencill.
But the Beavers have been bad for the past four years and they are bad again.
Part of it stems from a missed opportunity by the Beavers board of directors.
Five years ago, they passed on a chance to hire Cain as their GM. Cain wanted the Beavers GM job and was prepared to take it on a volunteer basis.
But a few bozos on the Beavers board told Cain “thanks but no thanks.” Told by the Beavers to take a hike, Cain instead signed on with the Thunderbirds and is now regarded as the best GM — by far — in the NOJHL.
Soo Eagles took a pair of road games from the Michigan Warriors on the weekend to improve their record to 9-7 and move to within a point of first place in the North Division of the North American Hockey League. Veteran goalie Sean Keating backstopped the Eagles to the back-to-back wins over the Warriors to improve his record to 4-5 with a 2.75 goals-against-average and .901 save percentage…How about this Adam Jonak kid from the MC Monarchs of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League? In just 10 games with MC this season, Jonak has 17 goals, 26 assists, 43 points for the expansion Monarchs, who have a record of 7-3…Owned and managed by Tim Dickieson, the Collingwood Ice is a perfect 8-0 atop the standings of the new Canadian International Hockey League…It is not often — or ever — that a junior hockey league would add a team after the season has already started. But I keep hearing that the independent Kalkaska Rhinos — who are coached by former National Hockey League enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa — may join the new CIHL even though the 2014-2015 season is already underway. A first-year entry that is owned and coached by Oliwa, Kalkaska has been playing exhibition games against teams from the CIHL and the MWJHL and has a record of 4-5 thus far this season…Lake Superior State University Lakers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association are winless in eight outings thus far this season. But a bright spot for the Lakers has been the play of freshman goalie Gordon Defiel, who despite a record of 0-7, has a save percentage above the .900 mark.