Leagues that are well run at the top tend to attract good coaches and managers as an extension of quality programs. And the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League certainly fits into that type of group categorization.
Simply put, no coach or general manager or anyone in a position of leadership relative to hockey operations gets to work for an NOJHL team unless approved by commissioner Robert Mazzuca and the due process that is in place.
Not to say that one NOJHL coach is just as good as another. But when it comes to character checks and such, there are no scoundrels with an association to any NOJHL team.
It wasn’t always that way. Even after Mazzuca arrived on the job a decade ago, the NOJHL became home to more than one shady operator and coach not fit to be leading an organization, let alone young men.
But over time, Mazzuca stood up and, with the backing of league governors, managed to rid the league of unworthy individuals, especially those who were in coaching and management positions.
No league is perfect. No league is free from error. But the NOJHL is flush with not only solid operators but good, qualified coaches and managers.
To be sure, the number of high end coaches that are in place in the NOJHL forms a rather impressive list.
Interestingly, plural NOJHL teams are coached and/or managed by men who are also owners/operators of the franchise.
Included in that bracket are Bruno Bragagnolo of the Soo Eagles, Cole Jarrett of the Soo Thunderbirds, Jason Rapcewicz of the Espanola Express, Paul Frustaglio of the French River Rapids and Tom Nickolau of the Cochrane Crunch. Jarrett, Rapcewicz, Frustaglio and Nickolau are all owners and head coaches while Bragagnolo is a part owner, general manager, and assistant coach.
The league is also home to a neat, tidy set of coaches both young and old.
35-year old Kyle Brick is in his sixth season with the Blind River Beavers and runs the hockey department as general manager and coach. Brick has totally turned around the fortunes of Blind River’s on-ice performance to the extent that he is the winning-est coach in a Beavers junior A franchise history that began in 2001.
Up In Timmins, 32-year old Brandon Perry has been more than Rock solid as a first year GM and coach after having previously returned his hometown, under 18 Timmins Majors to respectability.
In Hearst, 30-year old former NOJHL scoring star and hometown lad Marc-Alain Begin leads the Lumberjacks as their head coach after apprenticing for a few seasons as assistant coach.
Then there is 45-year old Marc Lafleur, who needs no introduction as the first year head coach of the Powassan Voodoos and a man who led both the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and his hometown Hearst team to NOJHL championships in the dual role of GM and coach.
And in the Michigan Soo, 53-year old Doug Laprade is well established as the Eagles head coach with a background that includes being part of Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association championships with the Lake Superior State Lakers as both a player and an assistant coach as well as a National Hockey League draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings.
Good people make up the NOJHL from the commissioner’s office to various owners, operators, general managers and coaches. It is why the league is of good repute not only throughout the provinces of Canada but into the United States.
And just for good measure, Mazzuca, as commisioner of the NOJHL, also serves as chairman of the board for the entire, coast to coast, Canadian Jr. Hockey League.