Around the NOJHL

November 17, 2015

The best team in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League is even better now…The race is on for the fifth-and-final playoff spot in the West Division…And more.


As if the Soo Thunderbirds, with their league-best record of 18-2-0, were not strong and deep enough already, the reigning champs added a pair of impact players last week.

After two good seasons in the North American Hockey League and after starting the 2015-2016 campaign in the Maritime Hockey League, 1995 birth-year defenceman Michael Caruso has brought his rugged game and rocket shot back to the NOJHL and the Thunderbirds, where he played as a rookie in 2012-2013.

And after posting the best goals against average in the NOJHL and back-stopping the Thunderbirds to the 2014-2015 championship, goalie Mario Culina has returned to the Soo from the Ontario Hockey League.

Caruso only adds to an air-tight Thunderbirds blueline featuring Aiden Salerno, Caleb Boman and Brandon Grandinetti and Culina is now in tandem with junior veteran Nathan Warren to give the Soo a dandy duo between the pipes.

With forward lines that include Matt Pinder, Jaren Bellini, Joey Miller, Brett Jeffries and twin terrors Darian Pilon and Drake Pilon, it is safe to say — with due respect to the other top teams — that the Thunderbirds have become odds-on-favourite to repeat as NOJHL champs.


The expansion Espanola Express and the building Blind River Beavers are tied for the fifth-and-final playoff spot in the NOJHL West with 9 points apiece.

Both teams are coming off wins last week.

Espanola rode the shutout goaltending of recently-acquired Kevin Labelle to a road victory at Iroquois Falls while Blind River ended a 15-game losing streak with a come-from-behind triumph over the Soo Eagles.

Coached by NOJHL veteran Tom McCarthy, the Express has shown considerable improvement of late as the win over the Eskis followed a one-goal loss to the East Division-leading Cochrane Crunch.

As for Blind River, first-year Beavers coach-general manager Brad Barton continues to stay the course with 17 players born in either 1999, 1998 or 1997.


Despite a record of 6-19-0, Iroquois Falls has three forwards with 10 or more goals: David Osborne, Brett Ouderkirk and Jacob Erwin…Two NOJHLers have reached the 20-goal mark already and both play for Cochrane: Hunter Atchison and Dustin Cordeiro…Forward Steve Harland has 2 goals in 4 games since being promoted from the NOJHL’s Powassan Voodoos to the North Bay Battalion of the OHL…Forward Otis Goldman has 4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points in 5 games since being acquired by the Rayside-Balfour Canadians from the Whitby Fury of the Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

What you think about “Around the NOJHL”

  1. Great action thus far in the NOJHL missed the pace and the league seems to be growing and getting respect along the way. Better times ahead for the expansion Express, glad we have hockey in Espanola again.

  2. The Express are making steady progress and I can see them moving up and finish 4th. Tommy is showing what a great Coach that he is by teaching the Players how to Win.

  3. Team NOJHL improves to 1-1 at Eastern Canada Cup Challenge

    CORNWALL, Ont. – Ryan Mooney (Rayside-Balfour Canadians) tallied twice to help lead Team Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League to a 5-2 victory over Ontario Junior Hockey League Nieuwendyk Tuesday in Day 2 action at Eastern Canada Cup Jr. A Challenge in Cornwall.

    The NOJHL all-stars got on the board first seven minutes into the contest as Mooney cruised in between the top of the circles and took a feed Rayside-Balfour teammate Bradley Chenier and wired one past OJHL netminder Daniel Urbani (Trenton Golden Hawks).

    Mooney then struck again with five and a half minutes remaining in the opening frame as he snapped one high past Urbani with Darian Pilon and Brett Jeffries of the Soo Thunderbirds drawing assists.

    OJHL Nieuwendyk countered to answer Mooney’s second tally as they broke out on a quick three-on-one with Lucas Brown (Trenton Golden Hawks) sliding a low shot under the outstretched pad of NOJHL goaltender Garrett Forrest (Powassan Voodoos).

    Striking fast in the second of two periods in the game, Jaren Bellini (Soo Thunderbirds) put the NOJHL up a pair 26 seconds into the stanza as his shot, off a pass from Hunter Atchison (Cochrane Crunch), went high over Urbani for the eventual game-winner.

    Zach Evancho (Buffalo Jr. Sabres) pulled the OJHL side to within one midway through the final frame as he wristed one from near the blueline that eluded Forrest.

    Jeffries added some insurance however for the NOJHL with under four minutes to go as he was sent in on a partial break and made no mistake backhanding a shot into the back of the net.

    Then in the late-going OJHL Nieuwendyk, with a power play, pulled their goaltender in favour of an extra attacker, but Atchison sealed the victory as he lofted a shot from deep in his own territory into the open net with 16 seconds left to round out the scoring.

    Forrest made 20 saves to register the win for the NOJHL with Urbani facing 23 attempts in defeat for OJHL Nieuwendyk.

    Team NOJHL now advances to quarter-final play Wednesday against a yet to be determined opponent with the start time also yet to be decided.

  4. Saw the Nojhl play today. Dominated at times but a couple of lapses killed them. I agree that the T-birds are going to be very tough now. Keep an eye on KL, I think they’re better than their record. Good luck to Harland with North Bay.

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