It is aware of COVID-19 as an opponent. And that hasn’t prevented the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League from being in mindful overdrive as it and its member teams make provisions for the 2021-2022 season.
At the top, 11th year commissioner Rob Mazzuca is in his home office bunker on a regular basis, ministering what needs to be governed.
To be sure, from coaches affirming their return to new coaches being hired to due process being conducted on other business, the NOJHL and its teams are being anything but listless.
“As a league we are attending to the matters at hand while mindful of COVID-19. There are so many variables, but as I tell our teams, let’s just stick with what we traditionally plan for,” Mazzuca told Hockey News North. “Teams are going about their business and planning ahead for the upcoming season and we have Elliot Lake returning to the league with new personnel involved and that has been good, positive news.”
Meanwhile, there has been plenty of notable team personnel information that has recently been confirmed by Hockey News North.
• Thessalon product Kyle Brick has re-upped with the Blind River Beavers as coach and general manager for the 2021-2022 season as per team president Robert Morningstar.
Prior to the abbreviated 2020-2021 campaign in which the Beavers posted a just below .500 record of 9-11-1 in 21 games — seventeen of which were against the Soo Thunderbirds — Blind River had nothing but winning seasons since Brick arrived in Blind River in 2016, posting successive records of 32-20-4, 33-19-4, 25-24-7 and a franchise-best 37-15-4 in 2019-2020.
By comparison, in the four seasons before the 35-year old Brick came on board in Blind River, the Beavers won only 33 of 212 games.
Meanwhile, as he plans ahead for next season, Brick said he wants and expects his trusted assistants Jamie Disano, Dylan King and Craig MacDonald to return to the Beaver dam.
• Espanola Express head coach Brent Hughes has affirmed his return as head coach for the 2021-2022 season.
Even though it was but a 12 game sample, Hughes put a firm stamp on the Express in his first season in Espanola in leading it to a 5-4-3 record — and doing so at the helm of the youngest team in the NOJHL with not a single 20 year old player on its roster.
The 38-year old Hughes has confirmed that he has commitments from many of his players to return to Espanola for the 2021-2022 season.
Prior to his arrival in Espanola, the no-nonsense Hughes was part of three straight winning seasons as an assistant coach with the Cape Breton Eagles of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.
• Elliot Lake will be out to make a fresh start as the newly-named Red Wings in 2021-2022 after sitting out the 2020-2021 season on a leave of absence.
Among the other changes that have been made has the Elliot Lake franchise in agreement with a management company headed by Paul Noad to look after team operations of the rebranded Red Wings, who will now sport red and white as their colours.
Further to that, holdover Elliot Lake has named John Buchanan as the Red Wings new general manager and Brian Noad — brother of the aforementioned Paul Noad — as the new head coach.
The new coach and management team will be out to reverse the franchise’s on-ice fortunes effective the 2021-2022 season.
Elliot Lake’s most recent NOJHL season — the 2019-2020 campaign — resulted in a 7-46-3 record for the then-called Wildcats and a last place finish in the 12-team league.
• The all new Red Wings are intent on getting a head start well in advance of the 2021-2022 season as Elliot Lake is advertising a spring evaluation camp for June 10-13.
According to a posting on the website of the Red Wings, the spring evaluation camp is slated for Centennial Arena in Elliot Lake and is based on COVID-19 restrictions.
Details can be found via http://elliotlakeredwings.ca.
• Marc Lafleur is a celebrated coach who has won championships with two different teams in the NOJHL.
And Lafleur is returning to the NOJHL as the new bench boss of the Powassan Voodoos for the 2021-2022 season.
Powassan was unable to compete in the NOJHL in 2020-2021 because of arena issues relative to COVID-19.
Lafleur worked as a volunteer assistant coach with the Carleton Place Canadians of the Central Canada Hockey League during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 shortened season after relocating to that area to be with family.
The 45-year old Lafleur coached his hometown Hearst Lumberjacks to the NOJHL championship in 2018-2019.
And prior to that, Lafleur won an NOJHL championship as coach and general manager of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in 2013-2014.
• Timmins Rock has trimmed its search for a new coach and general manager to a reported two or three finalists.
The Rock is looking to replace coach Corey Beer and GM Kevin Peever, who have both moved on to new hockey endeavors.
Timmins president Ted Gooch told Hockey News North that “a large list of applicants has been narrowed down and we hope to finalize our decision soon.”