Robert Mazzuca and I have had our differences over the years.
He’s a commissioner. I’m a writer.
He lives in Sudbury. I live in Sault Ste. Marie.
He’s Italian. I’m Irish-Croatian.
But we do have our similarities.
He’s opinionated. So am I.
And the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League defines a lot of what we both do for a living.
After a year of being at odds — against all odds, actually — Mazzuca and I are on good terms again.
He has issues. I have issues.
He has an agenda. So do I.
Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.
Afterall, since when is ‘agenda’ a bad word?
At any rate, the NOJHL is Mazzuca’s working world. After many successful years in the financial business, hockey is what Mazzuca does now.
And he’s good at it.
Ask the majority of the NOJHL governors and they will tell you how good Mazzuca is.
(Ask him and he’ll tell you, too.)
Much of what Mazzuca is good at is maintaining the NOJHL, advancing it, and cleaning up any spills.
He turned the failing Kirkland Lake Blue Devils into the resurrected Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in the middle of a season.
He watched as the Elliot Lake Bobcats became the Cochrane Crunch and saw to it that there was a new team in EL before the next season began.
He watched as the Abitibi Eskimos became the Timmins Rock and saw to it that the flailing Mattawa Blackhawks became the Iroquois Falls Eskimos.
And don’t be surprised if by the time the 2015-2016 season begins that the NOJHL will have increased from nine to 10, maybe 11 or 12 teams.
Issues remain, quite clear, no doubt.
Like in small-town Blind River where the Beavers sunk to a new low by losing all 56 of their games during the 2014-2015 season.
The Beavers may have a new president and a new board directors but they still owe the Town of Blind River about $10,000 on an overdue ice bill and they still owe the NOJHL about triple that in overdue league fees.
Still, as the Soo Thunderbirds prepare to represent the NOJHL at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada playdowns, the league has more good to look ahead to.
After a 17-year absence, there will be a presence in Timmins again with president Scott Marshall and coach-general manager Paul Gagne having left Iroquois Falls in the clean hands of good people.
Timmins, Iroquois Falls, Cochrane and Kirkland Lake will form a four-team rivalry in a northeastern nook of towns within a two-hour drive of one another.
Sudbury Nickel Barons have become the Rayside-Balfour Canadiens, restoring a legendary NOJHL link.
The NOJHL is on the right path.
To be sure, there will always be bumps on the road that involve players and teams and coaches and managers.
Not to mention a commissioner and a writer.