It was not that long ago — 2007 to be exact — that membership in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League stood at a mere six teams.
Eight years later, the NOJHL has doubled in size and is poised to be a 12-team league when the first pucks drop on the 2015-2016 season in less than four months.
The little league that was is growing through careful expansion and relocation.
As the NOJHL moves into new markets and maintains and reclaims status in others, it has done so under the solid, effective leadership of commissioner Rob Mazzuca.
Mazzuca has been on the job since 2011 and has been progressive and hands-on. And while some like him and some don’t — does it really matter who? — he has thoughtfully planned out the future while staying in the present.
Mazzuca’s contract as NOJHL commissioner will soon expire and there is little doubt that he has majority support from team governors to be extended on a multi-year deal.
The question is whether Mazzuca will get an offer that he can’t refuse to stay on as commissioner.
Let’s face it, while Mazzuca thoroughly enjoys his job as NOJHL leader, he makes a fraction of what other Canadian Jr. A commissioners are paid for what have become full-time jobs.
I have been told by those who know that commissioners from the Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Central Canada Jr. Hockey League have salaries in the $100,000 range. And I am told that even the commissioner of the five-team, Superior International Jr. Hockey League makes more than Mazzuca does.
What does Mazzuca get paid as NOJHL commissioner?
I asked him but he wouldn’t tell me.
So, I asked a few NOJHL governors and they all said that Mazzuca takes home about $30,000 per year in salary dollars.
Not that it’s my business but I think Mazzuca should be up for a raise closer to what other Canadian Jr. A commissioners are being paid.
Much of what Mazzuca is good at is maintaining the NOJHL, advancing it and cleaning up any spills.
To be sure, the examples of Mazzuca being prepared and a step ahead of the game in the four years that he has been on the job as NOJHL commissioner are numerous and impressive.
He turned the folding Kirkland Lake Blue Devils into the resurrected — and eventual champion — Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in the middle of a season.
He watched as the Elliot Lake Bobcats became the Cochrane Crunch and saw to it that there was a new team in EL before the next season began.
He watched as the Abitibi Eskimos became the Timmins Rock and saw to it that the flailing Mattawa Blackhawks became the Iroquois Falls Eskimos.
He has overseen expansion, first to Powassan and then to French River.
And while teams in the Michigan Soo and Espanola both left for other leagues within the past three years, both are poised to return to the NOJHL in 2015-2016 under Mazzuca’s watch.
He has also managed to fend off the Canadian International Hockey League, which strolled into NOJHL territory amid hope and hype last fall only to flounder and then fold.
Mazzuca has done his job — and then some.
It may be time to pay up.