Goalies. They represent the last line of defense at the most scrutinized and evaluated position in hockey.
In the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, there are no shortage of top flight goalies. And following is a look at several who figure to be difference makers this season.
Alphabetically, here is our pick six of puck stoppers.
Alex Bugeja. This well traveled veteran represents a major off season acquisition by Powassan Voodoos general manager Chris Dawson.
The 5-foot-10, 185 pound Bugeja, who has 2001 birth date, was traded by the Soo Thunderbirds to Powassan in a cash exchange.
He was the Thunderbirds most valuable player during the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL season with a 9-2-2 record, 2.37 goals against average and .936 save percentage.
Now, in going to what will be a rather young team in Powassan, Bugeja looms as a big game puck stopper with the ability to steal games for the Voodoos and incoming coach Marc Lafleur.
Previously, Bugeja spent the 2019-2020 season with the Fort Frances Lakers of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League before heading to the NOJHL and the Soo.
Gavin Disano. A true warrior, Disano withstood baptism by fire as a young rookie goalie with the Blind River Beavers during the 2020-2021 season.
The 5-foot-9, 185 pound Disano, who hails from Sault Ste. Marie, faced a barrage of shots in becoming a workhorse between the pipes for Blind River over the course of the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL campaign.
Signed by the Beavers prior to the start of the 2020-2021 NOJHL campaign after a year with the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, Disano was originally brought into Blind River last season to be the rookie backup to veteran Wyatt Courchaine.
But Disano eventually supplanted Courchaine as the no. 1 goalie in Blind River and saw the bulk of the action throughout the 2021 portion of the COVID-19 affected season as the Beavers faced off against the Soo Thunderbirds in cohort competition.
Disano ended up with a 6-4-1 record while Courchaine had a 3-7-0 mark for Blind River, which finished the 2020-2021 season with a 9-11-1 showing in 21 games — 17 of which were played against the Soo and the other four versus the Rayside Balfour Canadians (now Sudbury Cubs.)
As for Disano, his impressive 6-4-1 record, .891 save percentage and goals against average of 4.53 did not tell the whole story of what the young 2003 birth year goalie faced in the Beavers net.
That is, in 689 minutes of action, Disano faced a whopping 478 shots. Which, tallies up to a per game average of almost 42 shots per 60 minutes.
Gavin McCarthy. There are high expectations in Timmins for the 2003 birth year youngster, who posted a tidy 5-2-0 record as the backup to graduated Rock star Tyler Masternak last season.
The 5-foot-11, 165 pound McCarthy, who apprenticed at the Ontario Hockey League training camp of the Sudbury Wolves earlier this month, is in somewhat of a pressure situation in taking over as the starter from Masternak, who posted no less than 18 shutouts over three NOJHL seasons in Timmins.
Still, the stage is set for McCarthy to make his own name as a talented tender in Timmins.
Michael Nickolau. The 6-foot-4, 200 pound Nickolau was a huge presence in the net for the Cochrane Crunch during the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL season.
As a first year goalie in the NOJHL, Nickolau faced a barrage of shots for Cochrane, which managed to win just four of 21 games.
And not only did Nickolau win all of Cochrane’s games in posting a 4-10-1 record with an .898 save percentage and 4.79 goals against average, he did so while facing a whopping 683 shots in 914 minutes of action.
Do the arithmetic and Nickolau, who has a 2001 birth date, faced an average of 46 shots per 60 minutes of action — which makes his save percentage all the more impressive and noteworthy.
Joel Rainville. The rebranded Sudbury Cubs will be looking for the 6 foot, 180 pound Rainville to be a major winning force in the net this season.
Hailing from the North Bay area town of Sturgeon Falls, Rainville last played in the NOJHL during the 2019-2020 season when he set a franchise record for wins as the no. 1 goalie for the Espanola Express, which was then coached by Dave Clancy, who is now the associate for Sudbury.
As a 2001 birth year mainstay, Rainville has the makings to take the Cubs of Sudbury a long way this season.
Noah Zeppa. A local Soo product with a 2002 birth date, the 5-foot-10, 165 pound Zeppa has been brought home to mind the net for the Thunderbirds after two seasons of playing elsewhere and being affected by a concussion injury as well as a serious family illness.
There is no question about Zeppa’s ability and capabilities as a former most valuable player in the Great North Under 18 Hockey League while playing for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds.
Zeppa has a lot to prove — and he has the character, makeup and talent to do so. The rest is up to him.