There is an impressive link among coaches in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League who were first-round draft picks as players.
No less than four NOJHL coaches — Paul Gagne of the Timmins Rock, Tom McCarthy of the Espanola Express, Moe Mantha of the French River Rapids and Brad Barton of the Blind River Beavers — were all first-round, Ontario Hockey League draft picks.
In fact, Gagne and McCarthy also went on to be first-round, National Hockey League draft picks and Mantha became a second-rounder.
Then there is NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca, who — like Gagne, McCarthy, Mantha and Barton — was also a first-round draft pick to the OHL.
As NHLers, Mantha played in 673 games, McCarthy skated in 528 and Gagne in 390 for a combined total of 1,591 matches at hockey’s highest level.
A speedy centre, Gagne was a first-round pick of the Windsor Spitfires at the 1978 OHL draft and a first-round pick of the erstwhile Colorado Rockies at the 1980 NHL draft.
A lanky centre, McCarthy was a first-round (first overall) pick of the Oshawa Generals at the 1977 OHL draft and a first-round pick of the erstwhile Minnesota North Stars at the 1979 NHL draft. (As an OHLer, McCarthy was taken ahead of Wayne Gretzky at the 1997 draft.)
A rugged defenceman with a booming shot, Mantha was a first-round pick to the Toronto Marlboros at the 1978 OHL draft and a second-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets at the 1980 NHL draft.
A tough, hulking defenceman, Barton was a first-round pick to the Kitchener Rangers at the 1988 OHL draft and a 10th-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks at the 1991 NHL draft.
A high-scoring, strong-skating defenceman with a nasty edge, Mazzuca was a first-round pick of the Sudbury Wolves at the 1979 OHL draft.
Two other NOJHL coaches also have status as OHL and NHL draft picks.
Jordan Smith of the Soo Thunderbirds was a second-round pick of the Soo Greyhounds at the 2001 OHL draft and a second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks at the 2004 NHL draft. A strong, tough, puck-moving defenceman, Smith’s promising career ended as a rookie pro in 2005 when he lost an eye while playing in an American Hockey League game.
Jason Young of the Rayside-Balfour Canadians was a fourth-round pick of the Sudbury Wolves at the 1989 OHL draft and a third-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres at the 1991 NHL draft as a hard-working left winger.
Of note, Gagne, Mantha, Mazzuca, Smith and Young are all part of the NOJHL as guys who grew up in northern Ontario.
Gagne hails from Iroquois Falls, Mantha grew up in Sturgeon Falls, Mazzuca and Young are both from the Sudbury area and Smith calls Sault Ste. Marie home.
McCarthy and Barton are both from the Toronto area.
PHOTO: As a player, Espanola Express coach Tom McCarthy was a first-round pick to both the OHL and the NHL.