Better, bolder in Blind River

January 23, 2017

They have already won more games in 2016-2017 than they managed in the three previous seasons combined. Suffice to say that the Blind River Beavers are the definition of a Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League team that has turned it around.

A home-and-home sweep of the rival Soo Eagles on the weekend has not only solidified Blind River’s hold on second place in the West Division but has put the Beavers within four victories of the franchise’s all-time win total for a single season.

Blind River entered the NOJHL in 1999.

Now, with 51 points from a record of 25-16-1, the second-place Beavers are three points up on the third-place Rayside-Balfour Canadians while trailing the pace-setting Soo Thunderbirds by 10 points in the West Division standings.

The 25 wins is just four shy of the 29 victories that Blind River posted during the 2009-2010 regular season.

Consider that in the three seasons prior to this one, the Beavers won only 20 of 162 regular-season games — which is an indication of how far the on-ice product in Blind River has come under the new-direction staff of coach Kyle Brick, assistant coach Dylan King, director of player personnel Craig MacDonald and senior advisor/scouting director Charly Murray.

Brick, a former assistant coach with the two-time reigning champion Soo Thunderbirds, figures to get serious consideration for coach-of-the-year as a rookie bench boss in the NOJHL.

A no-nonsense individual and tireless student of the game, Brick has demanded accountability from his players while changing the losing culture that had become the norm around the Beavers over the past several seasons. Teamed with the 26-year old King — a former Ontario Hockey League defenseman with the Soo Greyhounds who went on to play three full seasons at the minor-pro level — Brick has brought a bold, if not brash, approach to Blind River.

Brick, King and the aforementioned MacDonald all hail from the gritty Highway 17 town of Thessalon, which is located halfway between Blind River and Sault Ste. Marie. In fact, Brick and MacDonald — who are both in their early 30s — are former classmates and teammates from Central Algoma Secondary School.

As for the 65-year old Murray, who has spent parts of five decades in junior hockey, he has performed a key role in the success of a number of NOJHL teams over the years, including a prior gig in Blind River as well as a stop with the erstwhile Northern Michigan Black Bears and a pair of stints with the Thunderbirds.

A retired steelworker who has had a life-long passion for amateur hockey, there are few in the junior game with the overall scouting/player advancement pedigree that Murray has, having helped send dozens of players on to higher levels of hockey over the years, in particular the American college ranks.

Along with the “Thessalon threesome” of Brick, King and MacDonald, Murray is quick to give credit to the players for the dramatic, on-ice about-face that the Beavers have managed to pull off three-quarters of the way into the ’16-17 NOJHL season.

All four guested on a recent edition of the Hockey North Show that I host on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. on ESPN 1400 Radio and were equally effusive in their praise of the Beavers players.

Many of the first-year players have come to Blind River to play hockey from parts of Ontario and the United States that include Toronto and Chicago to team up with the home-grown talent from across the North Shore into the Soo.

“It’s been a long time since I have had such a good association with a group of good people such as Kyle, Dylan and Craig,” is how the veteran Murray summed up his relationship with Brick, King and MacDonald.

“The fans have been great and we have been working at having a good relationship with our Board of Directors,” Murray added. “And the players have bought in to what we are trying to accomplish in Blind River.”

So far, so good.

PHOTO: Blind River Beavers are fresh from a weekend sweep of the Soo Eagles.

What you think about “Better, bolder in Blind River”

  1. I have been following Blind River and the NOJHL for a number of years now. I’m
    so happy for the success of the current team and for the good fans in Blind River.
    GO Beavers!

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