EL Vikings … against all odds

March 20, 2024

There are times when sports — in this case junior hockey — is not about wins and losses. In the case of the Elliot Lake Vikings of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, this is a story of survival — not to mention perseverance, courage, strength, commitment and dedication in the face of adversity. 

Without question, the 2023-2024 season became a back and forth story of good news and bad news for the all new Vikings of Elliot Lake.

The positive news began back in the summer when well liked local resident Jef Jarmovitch purchased the NOJHL’s Elliot Lake franchise from its previous out of town operator. One of the first orders of business for Jarmovitch was to change the team name from Red Wings to Vikings. (Historically, junior hockey made its debut in Elliot Lake in 1965 and from then until 1997, the team was known as the Vikings.)

Fans and sponsors in Elliot Lake were quick to embrace the takeover by Jarmovitch through the purchase of season tickets and advertising. The good news continued through to the team’s ’23-24 regular season home opener on Sept. 9 when, in front to close to 500 fans at Centennial Arena, the Vikings stunned the reigning NOJHL champion Timmins Rock by a 6-5 score.

But the hoopla was short lived. Shortly after the Vikings home opener, Centennial Arena in Elliot Lake was suddenly and unexpectedly closed due to structural concerns. (Currently, the 55 year old building remains closed though Jarmovitch, as the owner of the Vikings, has offered hope for the 2024-2025 season via engineers and the City of Elliot Lake.)

“There is no firm update on (Centennial Arena) except the (City of Elliot Lake) shored it up for the winter. The engineer did say that after the initial inspection in September, Centennial Arena is in better shape than originally thought,” Jarmovitch relayed to Hockey News North.

Still, from early September until the end of November — as of December 1 Jarmovitch was able to secure the nearby Massey and District Community Centre as its ‘home’ rink for both practices and games through to the end of the current regular season — the Vikings were nomads. They played their ‘home’ games in either Blind River or Espanola, which both house rival NOJHL teams.

Jef Jarmovitch

At any rate, with a seating capacity of about 235, the clean and cozy Massey and District Community Centre was nicely upgraded just over eight years ago. But it had to be further enhanced to meet the standards of housing an NOJHL team.

And Jarmovitch is beyond thankful to the Township of Massey — which is located about 45 minutes from Elliot Lake — for doing all that it did to accommodate the Vikings for the regular season that just ended.

“Absolutely, big thanks to the Township of Massey,” an appreciative Jarmovitch relayed to Hockey News North. “They put about $100,000 in upgrades (to the Massey and District Community Centre) just for us.”

Then there are the merchants from Elliot Lake who further stepped up to support the Vikings as the team forged ahead without the use of its own home rink. 

The Vikings recently concluded the ’23-24 regular season with a league worst record of 5-48-5 and failed to secure a single win over the final 33 games of what was obviously a trying experience.

“When we had to move out of our rink in Elliot Lake to play out the season in Massey, practices where boys would normally be on the ice at 3:00 and home for dinner by 5:00 become practices at 4:00 and home for dinner at 8:00,” Jarmovitch noted. “Our group had numerous hurdles and challenges to overcome and we met them head on. Yes, our win/loss record isn’t what we would have liked. But most importantly, the 15 players who moved away from home for the first time in their lives to play the game they love never gave up and they worked their tails off all season even as all of the losses piled up.”

Jarmovitch took note of the bond that the band of Vikings formed.

“This is the tightest group of young men that I’ve ever been around … they did everything together from ice fishing, hunting, watching movies, playing ping pong and cards at my house. This is unheard of in junior hockey. I have had texts and calls from numerous players in the league saying they were envious of the off ice bond that these Vikings had. These guys formed a strong brotherhood that to me is way more important than wins and losses during what was a difficult season.”

Jarmovitch, as the first year operator of the Elliot Lake franchise, said it never occurred to him to pack it in given what he and the Vikings were dealt way back in September.

“Could I have taken the easy way out back in September and took a leave of absence from the league for a season? Absolutely! But that thought never crossed my mind. Could our players who finished the season with us have packed it in and gone home? Absolutely!

“But that was not and is not who we are,” summed up Jarmovitch. “I have had every owner reach out and congratulate the players and staff for toughing it out this season.”

Here is to next season for Jarmovitch and all who are associated in any way shape or form with the resilient Vikings of Elliot Lake.

What you think about “EL Vikings … against all odds”

  1. Sure hope the city can win hockeyville and get the arena fixed for the Vikings and all of Elliot Lakes minor hockey program

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