Play in the 12-team, two-division Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League does not resume until after January 1. And there are races and chases in both the East and West divisions.
EAST SIDE: Powassan Voodoos, Timmins Rock and the reigning NOJHL champion Hearst Lumberjacks are in a frantic fight for first place.
Powassan (28-6-0) has 56 points followed by Timmins (26-5-2) with 54 and Hearst (26-11-1) with 53. The Lumberjacks, though, have played five more games than the Rock and four more than the Voodoos.
The general consensus is that, as of now, Timmins has the best all-around team in the East Division.
In the middle of the East is the Cochrane Crunch, with 32 points from a record of 14-17-4.
Then comes a close chase for the fifth and final playoff spot between the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (9-21-5 for 23 points) and the French River Rapids (8-22-5 for 21 points.)
French River has yet to make the playoffs since joining the NOJHL in 2015. But veteran NOJHL coach Corey Bricknell, who is in his first season in French River, has the Rapids in the majority of the games they have played this season.
And as both French River and Kirkland Lake have played 35 games, the remainder of the schedule favours the Rapids as far as home ice goes.
Of its remaining 21 games, French River will play 14 at home. Meanwhile, of its remaining 21 games, Kirkland Lake will play only eight of them on home ice.
WEST SIDE: Like the East, the West features a high-wire act at the top of the ladder.
The small-market Blind River Beavers, superbly coached by Kyle Brick, are in first place by the narrowest of margins over the second seeded Rayside Balfour Canadians.
Blind River has 56 points from a record of 26-7-4. Nipping at the Beavers’ tails is Rayside Balfour with 52 points from a record of 24-10-4 with Blind River holding a game in hand.
The Twin Soo teams are next, locked in a showdown for third and fourth spots.
Soo Thunderbirds have 43 points from a record of 19-13-5 and Soo Eagles have 43 points as well, from a mark of 20-15-3. The Thunderbirds hold a game in hand on the Eagles.
Up next, coach Dave Clancy and his ever-improving Espanola Express have 23 points from a record of 10-21-3. The Express has a secure hold on the fifth-and-final playoff spot in the West, well ahead of the last-place Elliot Lake Wildcats.
Elliot Lake has 11 points from a league-worst record of 5-30-1.
EAGLES NEST: The home ice of Pullar Stadium — where the Soo Eagles are averaging 625 fans per outing, which is third best in the entire league, behind only Timmins and Hearst — should be of benefit for coach Doug Laprade’s crew over the remainder of the regular season.
The Eagles have 18 games left to play on the regular-season slate, 12 of which are at home. And of further advantage when it comes to travel, of the Eagles six remaining away games, two of them are a mere two miles away, across the International Bridge, against the Soo Thunderbirds.
The Eagles have a home-ice record of 10-5-1 to date.
YES SIR, SERRE: Hometown hero Caleb Serre of Blind River is the NOJHL’s runaway scoring leader.
The veteran Beavers forward has a whopping 79 points, including 34 goals. Serre’s 79 points are 23 more than his nearest challenger.