NOJHL playoff picture

January 31, 2023

Playoff season in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League will not get underway until the third week of March. But for many NOJHL teams, just about every game being played at this stage of the regular season is like a playoff match.

For starters, there are frantic races for the fourth and final playoff spot in both the East and West divisions. On the East side, the Cochrane Crunch and French River Rapids are currently tied for fourth place with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners just three points back. And in the West end, the fourth place Espanola Paper Kings are six points up on the fifth seed Soo Eagles.

With the NOJHL having scrapped its previous playoff format of five teams making the playoffs in each division and the no. 4 and no. 5 seeds on each side facing off in a preliminary round to advance, only the top four in each division will move on to the post season this spring.

To be sure, the disparity between both divisions is cause for concern this season. For example, if the regular season ended today, the Soo Eagles would miss the playoffs in the West Division despite having the same number of wins as the bottom three teams in the East Division combined. Yes folks, one of Cochrane, French River or Kirkland Lake is going to make the playoffs in the East Division despite the fact that the three teams have combined for just 17 wins in 122 games to date. In fact, the Elliot Lake Red Wings, who are in last place in the West, currently have 13 wins compared to six for each of Cochrane and French River and five for Kirkland Lake.

A better playoff format would have the top eight teams in the league make the playoffs, regardless of division. But the current format of the top four on each side making the playoffs was voted on by team representatives before the start of this season.

I asked NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca if he had “executive privilege” to immediately change the playoff format to the top eight teams making the playoffs regardless of division, given the clear disparity between the two sides. His answer was a very simple “nope.”

Meantime, there are other races for positioning going on as the 12-team NOJHL is in the stretch run of the 2022-2023 season. In the East, the Timmins Rock is trying to hold off arch-rival Hearst Lumberjacks for first place with the Powassan Voodoos sitting comfortably in third. And in the West, the pace-setting Sudbury Cubs have a 12-point lead on the Soo Thunderbirds and Blind River Beavers, who are tied for second.

What you think about “NOJHL playoff picture”

  1. The only way the top 8 should make the playoffs is with a 55 game balanced schedule where each team plays the other 11 five times. Although it would be more costly for travel, it would give a true representation of the top teams in the NOJHL.

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