It is without peer in terms of being an exceptionally well run junior hockey league from longstanding commissioner Robert Mazzuca through to outstanding website content and management that could well be a model for others to follow.
And on the ice, the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League is off to a fluid start to the 2021-2022 season with several serious contenders inching towards potential gain and glory.
EAST SIDE: It is shaping up as a three team race to the first place finish line in the East Division between the Timmins Rock, Hearst Lumberjacks and Powassan Voodoos.
Meanwhile, the recharged French River Rapids are in striking distance of the leaders while the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Cochrane Crunch have been cellar dwellers in search of solutions through the early going of the season.
Timmins and Hearst are both being led by young coaches with 32-year old Brandon Perry at the helm of the Rock and 30-year old Marc-Alain Begin manning the bench for the Lumberjacks. Perry served a several seasons coaching apprenticeship with his hometown Timmins Majors of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League while Begin, who is also a homegrown product, learned the ropes as a Lumberjacks assistant under crackerjack bench boss Marc Lafleur, who is now in his first season with Powassan.
As for French River, the Rapids — who are steered by general manager and coach Paul Frustaglio — are hopeful of making the playoffs for the first time since they entered the league as an expansion team in 2015.
Throughout the East, from a player standpoint, standouts to date have included defenseman Cameron Dutkiewicz and forwards Riley Brousseau and Nolan Ring, who are three local products leading the way for Timmins; Hearst goalie Liam Oxner and forward Zachary Demers; Powassan goalie Alex Bugeja and forward Rodion Tatarenko; French River forwards Cooper Bowman and Chase Lefebvre and defenseman Griffin Simpson.
WEST SIDE: There has not been much to choose from among the six teams of the West Division as parity has been rather evident through this stage of the schedule.
In fact, even the two bottom teams, the Espanola Express and Elliot Lake Red Wings, have been competitive for the most part and been in their share of close games.
A level up thus far, the Soo Thunderbirds, Sudbury Cubs, Blind River Beavers and Michigan Soo Eagles have all shown signs of being top tier teams.
From a coaches end, Kyle Brick of Blind River is doing his usual masterful job in now, his sixth season as boss of the Beavers dam. Besides being a good coach, Brick is also a top notch general manager and has had the most success of anyone in a Beavers NOJHL franchise history that dates back to 2001.
Player wise, the Thunderbirds have had a number of high performance players to date including goalie Noah Zeppa, defenseman Creo Solomon and forwards Kelsey Ouelett, Samuel Lake, Cooper Foster and Tyson Doucette. Solomon, Ouelett, Lake and Foster are all rookies while Doucette is just 17 years old.
Others who have stood out through the first three weeks of the season include forwards Kyler Campbell and Pineshish Whiteduck of Sudbury, defenseman Ethan Pegg and forwards Hunter Berry and Caleb Minns of Blind River, forwards Chase Tallaire and Jack Mortson of the Michigan Soo, goalie Patrick Boivin and defenseman Caleb Resch of Espanola and forwards Jovani Moses and Alex Antoine of Elliot Lake.