Ahead of a new NOJHL season

May 25, 2024

June 1 marks the official start to the 2024-2025 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League season. Among other new business, player signings and transactions can be confirmed and finalized. And the league will settle its regular season schedule and revamped playoff format for the ’24-25 campaign at its annual general meeting.

Meanwhile, there have been some eventful developments and episodes around the NOJHL in the time since the Sudbury Cubs ousted the Powassan Voodoos to win the league championship and complete a stirring playoff run that also included best of seven series triumphs over the Soo Thunderbirds and Blind River Beavers.

Kyle Brick

BRICK HOUSE: The most successful coach in the history of the Blind River Beavers is poised to return for another season. 38-year old Kyle Brick, who has been with the Beavers since 2016, oversees one of the best small market programs in the entire Canadian Jr. Hockey League.

Hailing from the even smaller Highway 17 town of Thessalon — which is about a 40 minute drive from Blind River — Brick holds down the dual role of head coach and general manager of the Beavers. He is regarded as one of the best recruiters in the CJHL.

Meantime, Brick will be looking for additional help behind the bench for the upcoming season as long-time assistant Jamie Disano is no longer part of the Blind River coaching staff.

IN THE EAGLES NEST: The Eagles got their man. Jeremy Rebek was the first choice of president and general manager Bruno Bragagnolo to become the new head coach of the Soo Eagles. So, suffice to say that Bragagnolo got who he wanted in the highly respected Rebek.

The 48-year old Rebek spent the previous three seasons as a valuable assistant coach with the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL. He also had a previous relationship with the Thunderbirds as a highly successful assistant several years ago.

Jeremy Rebek

Rebek takes over as the Eagles head coach following the recent departure of Doug Laprade. Laprade, who had been the Eagles bench boss since 2018, has since joined the AAA Under 18 Soo Indians as head coach and part owner.

Back to Rebek and being him the first choice of aforementioned Eagles president and GM Bruno Bragagnolo to replace Laprade. To be sure, Bragagnolo did his homework on Rebek before offering him the job as head coach of the Eagles.

“Jeremy is well respected … actually very well respected for his knowledge of the game and the way he relates to players,” Bragagnolo told Hockey News North. “He played the game at a high level for a long time and he has good contacts in the game. I like the way he sees the game as a coach. You can tell just by talking to him that he has a real mind for the game. Every one who I talked to about him can’t say enough about his hockey knowledge and him being such a smart coach. He had a lot to with the success that the Thunderbirds have had on two different stints that he had with them.”

All in all, Rebek was part of three NOJHL championship teams with the Thunderbirds as a chief strategist under different head coaches. And as a player, Rebek got to see the world in a career that took him all over North America and overseas.

Rebek first left his Sault Ste. Marie home as a 17-year old in was the beginning of what would be three seasons as an overachieving defenseman with the Owen Sound Platers of the Ontario Hockey League.  A ninth round pick by Owen Sound at the 1995 OHL priority selections draft, Rebek would go on to suit up in 201 games for the Platers and total 27 goals, 113 assists, 140 points as a rock solid, 5 foot 11, 185 pound defender.

Then came a long and winding professional hockey career that would eventually lead him to Austria, Northern Ireland and Italy before finally retiring as a player at the age of 37. Those 17 years of next level hockey also included time with the Laurentian University Voyageurs in Sudbury and various minor pro outposts with teams such as the Missouri River Otters, Toledo Storm, Kansas City Blades, Mississippi Sea Wolves, Rockford Ice Hogs, Milwaukee Admirals and Chicago Wolves before heading off to see more of the world.

It was while Rebek was in Sudbury that he met his future wife, Alexandra Smith, and she would join him on his hockey journey that finally ended overseas when he was still a point per game defenseman at the age of 37. And It was while playing in Belfast, Northern Ireland that Rebek combined scoring 42 points in 42 games as an aging defenseman with getting his masters degree from the University of Ulster.

As for Rebek taking over as head coach of the Soo Eagles, this is widely seen as an exceptional hire by the Michigan-based team that plays out of venerable Pullar Stadium.

MILLER TIME: Joey Miller, who played in more than 190 games for the Soo Thunderbirds as a high scoring forward and later became an assistant coach, has himself a new gig for the ’24-25 season.

The 29-year old Miller has joined the Thunderbirds’ arch rival Soo Eagles as an assistant under above mentioned new head coach Jeremy Rebek.

As fas player, Miller was a big producer for the Thunderbirds during his NOJHL playing days from 2013 to 2016. In 192 games — regular season and playoffs included — Miller totalled 63 goals, 85 assists, 148 points and rang up 194 minutes in penalties.

ON THE VIKING SHIP: Hopefully this is a breath of fresh air for Elliot Lake. That is, there is a new head coach and general manager on board with the Elliot Lake Vikings ahead of the ’24-25 season.

Mike Nesbitt has agreed to as two year contract with Vikings’ owner Jef Jarmovitch to take the helm in Elliot Lake. Originally from Oshawa, the 48-year old Nesbitt has spent the past several seasons as the head coach and GM with the Comox Valley Glacier Kings of the Vancouver Island Jr. Hockey League.

Jarmovitch, who is entering his second year as the owner and operator of the NOJHL Vikings, commented to Hockey News North on the hiring of Nesbitt.

“Mike looks forward to coming to Elliot Lake and the opportunity to get things back on track. Mike’s connections out west and with (newly hired Vikings assistant general manager) John Buchanan’s work here in Ontario I believe that we are finally heading in the right direction towards building a competitive team here in Elliot Lake,” said Jarmovitch.

“Speaking to Mike, we are both on the same page in regards that the Vikings aren’t in a rebuilding mode. With the return of key younger players as well as a newly recruited mix of veteran and young players, we are hoping to bring exciting hockey back to Elliot Lake,” added Jarmovitch.

Elliot Lake finished last overall in the 12-team NOJHL in 2023-2024 under the coaching of both Chris Keleher and Jon Campbell.

MAZZUCA IN THE CHAIR: The Canadian Jr. Hockey League has confirmed its executive committee for the 2024-2025 season. And NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca has been acclaimed as CJHL chair of the board for another season.

Initially appointed as CJHL chair back in 2021, Mazzuca has been commissioner of the NOJHL since 2011.

“It remains an honour to continue on as CJHL chair of the Board,” relayed Mazzuca. “My colleagues and I, along with our partners at Hockey Canada and the National Hockey League, continue to strive for the betterment of Junior A hockey across the country, both on and off the ice.

“Along with our member leagues, teams, players, coaches, staffs and officials, tremendous credit goes out to the multitude of dedicated volunteers, fans and corporate partners across the CJHL’s Jr. A platform, whose unwavering support has our undying gratitude,” summed up Mazzuca.

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