NOJHL first-round forecast
March 10, 2014
It’s the beginning of the playoff season in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
All four best-of-seven series get underway this week.
Following are my first-round predictions.
This one should be easy.
First-place Soo Thunderbirds finished 75 points ahead of eighth-place Blind River Beavers during the 2013-2014 regular season.
With 99 points from a regular-season record of 48-5-3, the Thunderbirds are a team without an apparent weakness.
Joel Horodziejczyk is not only the NOJHL’s best goalie but was named the league’s most valuable player and along with centre Gavin Burbach and defenceman Tyler Jones, were chosen to the first all-star team.
But there is more to the Thunderbirds, who are led by first all-star team coach Jordan Smith.
Forward Darcy Haines averaged two points per outing in 33 games after joining the Thunderbirds via trade and is perhaps the most-creative player in the NOJHL.
The blueline brigade is led by Jones and features fellow veterans Shane Snow, David Radke and Jeremy Solomon and NOJHL rookie-of-the-year Owen Headrick.
Blind River comes into the series led by 20-goal scorer Tyson McLeod and Tim Perks, who potted 8 goals, 6 assists, 14 points in just 18 games.
With two capable goalies in junior veteran Dylan Knox and rookie Jessie Morin, the Beavers are solid in that area.
Blind River finished the regular season with a mere 24 points from a record of 10-42-4 but did show improvement over the final 14 games with a mark of 5-8-1.
The Beavers will be without plum rookie defenceman Nick Trecroce for the series. Trecroce is sidelined with a shoulder injury.
PREDICTION: Soo in four.
KIRKLAND LAKE-NORTH BAY
As hockey boss, coach-general manager Marc Lafleur has done an exceptional job in assembling a Kirkland Lake team that finished in second place with 92 points from a record of 43-7-6.
To be sure, Lafleur has taken advantage of whatever resources are available to him to recruit players from outside of Ontario.
Gold Miners top scorers Samuel Wilbur (36 goals, 50 assists, 86 points) and Austin Rust (35 goals, 30 assists, 65 points) are both from Michigan and Steve Babin (24 goals, 56 assists, 80 points) hails from Quebec while goalie Ken Fitzgerald and his 22-5-0 record, 2.06 goals-against-average and .918 save percentage came from British Columbia.
And just how were the Gold Miners able to snag Wilbur in a trade with last-place Blind River?
Ah, the powers of persuasion.
At any rate, this is a Kirkland Lake team which should have little trouble with the Trappers from North Bay in this opening-round playoff series.
North Bay’s best player is 1997-birth year, rookie goalie Evan Cormier and the Trappers as a team seemed to regress as the season went on.
The seventh-place Trappers garnered 36 points from a record of 15-36-6 and ended the regular season with nine straight losses.
PREDICTION: Kirkland Lake in four.
Forget about the fact that third-place Espanola finished 20 points ahead of sixth-place Sudbury because the Rivermen should get all they can handle from the Nickel Barons in this matchup.
Fact is, Espanola overachieved during the regular season and Sudbury underachieved but over the past month, both teams have been fairly equal.
Both teams are laden with quality players and both teams are well-coached with Tom McCarthy in Espanola and Jason Young in Sudbury.
It says here that McCarthy in Espanola and Young in Sudbury, along with Jordan Smith in the Soo and Abitbi’s Paul Gagne, are top coaches in the eight-team NOJHL.
At any rate, expect a tight series.
This one could well result in a Sudbury upset of Espanola.
But we’ll side with home-ice advantage.
PREDICTION: Espanola in seven.
The fourth-place Eskimos put up 64 points — just one back of Espanola — and the fifth-place Bobcats weren’t far behind with 58.
Where to start?
Abitbi is led by point-producing forwards Erik Robichaud, Brady Clouthier and 1997 birth-year rookie Brenden Locke while Elliot Lake counters with 40-goal scorer Brett Wagner and a supporting cast led by Dustin Cordeiro and Aviv Milner.
Defensively, both teams are statistically-similar.
The Eskimos have home-ice advantage and the Bobcats are leaving Elliot Lake for Cochrane after this season.
PREDICTION: Abitibi in six.
PHOTO: Soo Thunderbirds defenceman David Radke. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)
What you think about “NOJHL first-round forecast”
I assume you mean Blind River goalie Jessie Morin….
Ah yes, thanks for catching that, tweetmaster. I made the change.
I think the Espo series will be won by the Rivermen in 6 and I think the Bobcats will beat Abitibi, they have lots of heart.
I think Rivermen will make a few necessary adjustments and the players will fire up the after burners and Sudbury will be lucky to take one !!!
Looking forward to the Playoffs! I can see the Barons giving Espanola a good run for the money. I agree RR – a 7-Game Series. I will pick the Nickel Barons to win however in what should be a Barn Burner of a Series!
This is what I heard and these are my words:
As I nestled into my usual seat Sunday at the Essar I was shocked to hear that the Bobcats management had been requesting FREE tickets to off set the expense that parents and billets had to incur after driving via car to the game. This is what I heard.
If this is fact I ask: When will this so-called leadership of the NOJHL step in and do what’s best for there PLAYERS?
I also have this to say:
Trappers “Owner” (use that term very lightly) cant pay his bills so there reduced to taking a school bus 5 and 6 hours one way?
This is an embarrassment, these boys families have paid good money to play in the NOJHL and the honus is on the league to insure the safety of these young men .
As for the Bobcats again:
I heard Ryan Leonard refer to his organization several times as a business , well if that is so then this is no way at all to protect your assets. MY OPINION.
The Beavers will also be missing Leo Lightning and the team is $500 lighter in the wallet.
Hey Birdwatcher I was wondering how is it that you have so much info that only the Owners and Upper Team Management in the NOJHL would have on the Elliot Lake Bobcats and the North Bay Trappers? There are things that you speak of that only these people should know about and there is a good reason for that.
Now that I have said that let me start off by saying it is always wise choice to have all the facts before you open your mouth cause if you don’t then you may end up looking like a fool.
The Elliot Lake Bobcats took a vote, as a TEAM and decided that they wanted to drive to the game… Why did they want to drive you may ask… Well there’s a simple answer to that question. The team had a few days off before they go back to practicing Tuesday afternoon so 13 of the 21 Boys asked if they could spend a few nights in Sault Ste. Marie. They wanted to get some new sticks and enjoy the city life for a few days. Unfortunately there is not a heck of a lot to do for a young man in Elliot Lake… The little things that most people take for granted like seeing a movie or even doing some much needed shopping before the upcoming playoff run. So that meant that there were only 8 Players that had to travel in vehicles and they were brought to the Soo in 3 separate vehicles:
#1 Was the Coaches vehicle
#2 Was the Assistant Coaches vehicle
#3 Was the VP of the Bobcats Vehicle
So now you guys can do the math. But if you ask me a bus for 8 Players those not make much sense.
Now I am not sure where you get this story about Parents and Billets having to drive the kids to get to the game and asking to get in for free. First of all out of the 21 players on the team and only ONE of them lives in Elliot Lake so I don’t know where all these parents would have came from. YES there was one person that wanted to get in for FREE but the reason for that was he had forgotten his NOJHL pass at home this one person is the VP of the Bobcats.
I have said my piece and I am sure I will have people that will argue what I said… But you know what I only spoke about facts today.
I would like to speak on behalf of the North Bay Trappers but that is not my place to do so.
Elliot Lake Bobcats
the point is that it should never come to a vote , this league needs to place player safety as job one, also the NOJHL battles stigmas in US markets every day , how can we possibly defend the use of school busses and personal vehicles.
Put personal loyalties aside and put yourself in a parents shoes, would these be attractive options for you to send your young boy? Honestly?
Leadership is allowing this leagues image to be tarnished on a daily basis.
I have to agree with Bird Watcher here! That should never have happened, Bobcat management should know better. Players should travel in the safety of the bus and had Billet families or whoever drove them there , simply pick them up after the game to do there “shopping and movie watching” I see this as management cutting corners to save money…..Extremely poor decision making by Bobcat management even after I hear the official explanation. It’s a wonder why NOJHL is in bad shape with decision making like this.
So you guys are saying Cchl and ojhl should take buses all the time cause huge traffic in big cities is very dangerous .
A few blog postings earlier on this or Randy’s other blog, there was some comments about who the best Fasthockey Play by Play announcers were.
I venture to say that there are different aspects of being a good announcer: objectivity, accuracy, a good voice, knowledgeable background, entertaining style, interaction with color announcer if there is one, and surely some other elements.
The Eskimos’ duo of Tom Parisi and Cody Belanger take a back seat to NO ONE with any of those criteria, and IMHO are the best announcers in the N.O.
A link to a sample of their work is on the eskis.com website, or at:
Give a listen and you be the judge. Would be nice if other clubs were to do highlight reels like this, then we’d be able to objectively compare – hint-hint.
My mistake: CORY Belanger
I have to agree 100% with Birdwatcher this should be a violation Ryan Leonard should be fined big time for jeopardizing player safety but we know only one team gets the majority of fines. If you want to talk about fasthockey announcers the young guy from Elliot Lake is a riot and very entertaining. I wonder if he would make the ride to Espanola next year to do our games as the madman of Elliot Lake is moving his team to Cochrane.
Another thing the series between Espanola and Sudbury might not be as close as you would think the Rivermen are in way better physical shape. The only way this will stay close is if the very undisciplined Barons hurt 3 or 4 players which god forbid can happen the way they run around like caged lions. In My Opinion of course.
Embarrassment to hockey . Hockey guy just stay off the blogs . Read all your pass comments and none make sense.
Really cause I am not a fan of idiot hockey that
you guys are used to. I am thinking you had too many
icicles shoved in your ears and your brain froze.
Too bad well you guys up north got your wish for
next year a small league that you might win.
Can’t wait for todays game. Lets get another big crowd out at the Rec Centre. Go Rivermen Go! Beat the big boys from Sudbury!