During the last off-season, the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League added a team to go from eight in 2013-2014 to nine in 2014-2015.
And once the 2015-2016 season begins, the NOJHL could be at 10 teams, maybe more.
As of now, a new team in French River — located between Sudbury and North Bay — is awaiting NOJHL and Northern Ontario Hockey Association approval.
And we are told that an application is being prepared that could put an NOJHL team back in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
First things first.
Should French River get approval to join the NOJHL, it would be under the ownership of Allan Donnan.
Donnan also owns the Mattawa Blackhawks, who are awaiting NOJHL and NOHA approval to move to Iroquois Falls for the 2015-2016 season. The move would keep the NOJHL in Iroquois Falls as the town will lose the Abitibi Eskimos to nearby Timmins for next season.
So, should French River get the necessary approval, it would put the NOJHL at 10 teams.
Back to a possible return to Michigan.
The NOJHL had an on-again, off-again presence in the U.P. from 2003 until 2012 with first the Northern Michigan Black Bears, then the Soo Indians, then the Soo Eagles.
The Indians won the NOJHL championship in 2006-2007 and the Eagles took the 2010-2011 title. The Eagles then left the NOJHL after the 2011-2012 season to join the North American Hockey League.
Should a Michigan Soo/U.P. area team return to the NOJHL in 2015-2016, it would not only require league and NOHA approval but the go-ahead from USA Hockey as well.
Then there is the matter of the Espanola Rivermen, who left the NOJHL after the 2013-2014 season to be a part of the new Canadian International Hockey League.
The Rivermen are in a dispute with the Town of Espanola regarding a lease agreement that runs until 2017. The Town of Espanola recently decided to “exercise its option” to terminate its contract with the Rivermen, which the team is challenging. Should the Rivermen and the CIHL depart Espanola, it would clear the return of the NOJHL to that town.
Another unsettled issue involves the Blind River Beavers, who are coming off a disastrous, winless 2014-2015 season. The Beavers also have off-ice problems and NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca has expressed his concern regarding the once-proud Blind River franchise.
What it all adds up to right now are loose ends and question marks for the 2015-2016 NOJHL season.
But if there is one thing that I have learned from my dealings with Mazzuca — both good and bad — over the years is that he tends to be one step ahead of the game.
And for that, I have to hand it to him — like it or not.