There is a lot happening on and away from the rinks of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League as we approach mid April.
On ice, Soo Thunderbirds and Cochrane Crunch are playing for the NOJHL championship. Off ice, there’s more action than working the Saturday night desk at a seedy northern Ontario hotel.
Tied at 1-1, the NOJHL title set continues this Thursday and Friday in Cochrane where the Crunch will play host to the regular-season champs from the Soo in Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven series.
On one side, we have the Crunch — which finished fourth overall in the nine-team NOJHL during the regular season — trying to win a championship for a town that is new to the league.
Led by high-strung, high-wire, high-energy coach-general manager Ryan Leonard, Cochrane has quickly become a good NOJHL town in its first season in the league.
While the irascible Leonard at times seems fit for a role in a looney-tunes episode, he has shown he can coach with the best in the league.
On the flip side, we have the Thunderbirds who are in the NOJHL finals for the fourth successive spring.
The Soo won the NOJHL title in 2011-2012 but lost in the finals to the erstwhile North Bay Trappers in 2012-2013 and to the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in 2013-2014.
They are holding their breath in Iroquois Falls awaiting word from the governing Northern Ontario Hockey Association to approve the relocation of the Mattawa Blackhawks to the tidy town of 4,500 hearty souls.
At the same time, the NOHA holds in its hands the fate of an NOJHL expansion team from the French River area.
NOJHL governors have already given their unanimous approval for the move from Mattawa to Iroquois Falls and for a new team to set up shop in the French River.
Meanwhile, NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca is keeping an anxious watch on the league’s troubled spot in Blind River.
The Beavers are coming off a brutal 2014-2015 season in which they lost all 56 games they played — and also lost many of their faithful fans.
Mazzuca remains convinced that the NOJHL can work in Blind River — with the right owners, the right general manager and the right coach.
About the only thing that Beavers management has got right the past few seasons is the right turn into the arena parking lot in Blind River.