Cochrane Crunch head honcho Ryan Leonard has added to his junior hockey property with a new team in Smooth Rock Falls.
The 35-year old Leonard — who owns, manages and coaches a successful Cochrane team that was third in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League in attendance in 2014-2015 and made it to the championship finals before losing to the Soo Thunderbirds — has secured a Jr. B franchise for the nearby town of Smooth Rock Falls.
The new Smooth Rock Falls Thunder will play 36 games this 2015-2016 season as a member of the Thunder Bay Jr. B Hockey League.
Leonard told HockeyNewsNorth.com that the Smooth Rock Falls Jr. B squad will be for players “who are not quite ready” for the Jr. A, NOJHL level.
“We are going to try to attract players from this area — Cochrane, Iroquois Falls, Hearst, Kapuskasing, Timmins and James Bay,” said Leonard, a gung-ho individual who has an extraordinary passion for junior hockey.
“Smooth Rock Falls is right in the middle of the region and we want to attract kids from the whole area,” added Leonard.
Leonard confirmed that Richard Solomon will be coach-general manager of the new Smooth Rock Falls team and Cory Hofferd will be the assistant.
Smooth Rock Falls will be part of a league that includes the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks, Thunder Bay Wildcats, Thunder Bay Stars, Nipigon Elks, Schreiber Falcons and the major midget Thunder Bay Kings.
“We are looking at five to six hours for an average trip,” said Leonard.
“We will have six three-game road trips and six weekends of three home games per weekend back in Smooth Rock Falls,” he added.
The reaction to getting a Jr. B hockey team in Smooth Rock Falls has been positive, said Leonard.
“Things are going to be great,” he gushed. “Everybody seems to be really excited to have something like this in the community. They have a beautiful facility (the recently-renovated Reg Lamy Cultural Centre Arena) which can seat about 600 fans.”
Leonard said he thinks that having a Jr. B team in Smooth Rock Falls will not only benefit his Cochrane squad but the other three NOJHL franchises in the northeastern Ontario nook — Iroquois Falls Eskis, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Timmins Rock.
With Smooth Rock Falls and Cochrane only about a half-hour drive apart, Leonard sees an opportunity to build the fan base for both teams.
“That is the whole idea of having a regional team like this,” he said. “As a junior hockey operator, you can’t stand pat. You always have to be looking ahead.”
A lot of hard work took place before Leonard could make his Jr. B team in Smooth Rock Falls official.
“First we had to go to the Northern Ontario Hockey Association, where we got approval in May,” he related. “Then we had to wait until the Ontario Hockey Federation meetings in June. Then, after the OHF approved us we had to go to the HNO (Hockey Northwestern Ontario), then I had to go to the Thunder Bay Jr. B Hockey League and they had a vote to approve it.”
There are some restrictions, Leonard noted.
“We can’t interfere with the AAA midget programs in the north and that’s okay because we haven’t done that in Cochrane. We didn’t have any midget kids with the Crunch last season and the plan is to have all junior-age players in Smooth Rock Falls as well.”