Back on ice in the NOJHL

December 30, 2015

Christmas season is over, New Year’s Day is less than 48 hours away and the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League is back playing games this weekend.

It is the NOJHL’s turn to have two representatives at the annual, four-team, Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Championships — which means one other will join the host Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the May 3-7 event.

Right now, the reigning NOJHL and Dudley-Hewitt Cup champion Soo Thunderbirds are the odds-on-favourite to join the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake in early May.

But the Thunderbirds are far from a shoo-in to join the host Gold Miners along with the champions of the Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Superior International Jr. Hockey League on the frozen stage of Kirkland Lake.

To be sure, the Thunderbirds are not in a class of their own, even if they have the best winning percentage heading into the 2016 portion of the NOJHL schedule.

Cochrane Crunch is right there with the Thunderbirds as are the Powassan Voodoos and let’s not count out the Elliot Lake Wildcats, Rayside-Balfour Canadians and the Timmins Rock just yet.

Playoffs are often about matchups and coaching and it’s not as though the Thunderbirds are better-coached than any other NOJHL contender.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the overall standings, there’s a battle looming for the fifth-and-final playoff spot in the West Division between two of the NOJHL’s multiple small-market teams, the Blind River Beavers and Espanola Express.

There are just two points separating Espanola from Blind River in the West and the Express has multiple games in hand on the Beavers.

Both teams are well-coached, with veteran NOJHL bench boss and former champion Tom McCarthy at the helm in Espanola and rookie headmaster Brad Barton doing good work in Blind River.

The way I see it, a race for a final playoff spot can be just as exciting as a battle for first place or a game between two top teams.

One team that I see having a determining factor of some sort in the second half is the Soo Eagles.

The Eagles will enter play in 2016 with a record of 12-18-1 but let’s not forget that the Michiganders are 0-6 against the powerful Thunderbirds. In other words, take away the T-Birds and the Eagles have a .500 record as a first-year, NOJHL expansion team.

The NOJHL is back on ice this weekend.

And as the season plays on, keep in mind that the best teams do not always win.

What you think about “Back on ice in the NOJHL”

  1. In most minds following the NOJHL, Lafleur and Smith are the top coaches in our League..Both will be going on to bigger but not necessarily better things but will be trend setters for other aspiring young coaches who will be instrumental in the future success of our League..

  2. Randy, you are correct in stating that the race for the fifth spot will be exciting. I haven’t seen the Beavers play since early in the season, but I know the Express have improved dramatically in the last month or so. The deciding factor could be the additions each team makes prior to the transaction freeze. The Express, while improving defensively, still could use some scoring help. The addition of Labelle in goal, gives the Express a chance to win in most games.

  3. Got to love these TB haters , same whine every time. All it shows is their lack of hockey knowledge and fact.

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