Hot, humid and hazy weather aside, it is but a mere month before the first puck drops on the 2021-2022 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular season.
September 16 is the planned start date to the upcoming NOJHL campaign. And ahead of that, it has been an eventful off season in the NOJHL, primarily in the West Division.
• Just recently, the rebranded Elliot Lake Red Wings held their first ever tryout camp. Impressively, about 70 players attended this past weekend’s camp at Centennial Arena in Elliot Lake.
Notably, Red Wings managing director Paul Noad told Hockey News North that 15 players have signed up to play for Elliot Lake ahead of the upcoming season and that commitments have been made to several other skaters.
Elliot Lake is poised to return to the NOJHL as the Red Wings for the 2021-2022 season with an all new hockey and business management group led by the aforementioned Paul Noad. Previously known as the Wildcats, Elliot Lake had a team in the NOJHL as recently as the 2019-2020 season.
Paul’s older brother, Brian Noad, is the head coach of the Red Wings and a 35-year veteran of coaching hockey in Ontario and Alberta.
Of local interest, two homegrown Elliot Lake products who both have 2003 birth dates and are good friends and former minor hockey teammates — namely defenseman Teegan Dumont and center Alexandre Antoine — are signed up to play with the Red Wings.
The 6-foot-2, 220 pound, right hand shooting Dumont was obtained during this off season by the Red Wings in a future considerations trade with the nearby rival Blind River Beavers.
Dumont suited up in 12 contests for Blind River during the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL campaign and scored a goal before a seven game suspension for instigating a fight ended his season.
Prior to the 2020-2021 campaign, Dumont played two full seasons in the Great North Under 18 Hockey League as a standout for both the Sudbury Minor Wolves and Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves. In total, Dumont netted 17 goals, 20 assists, 37 points and racked up 142 penalty minutes in 50 regular season games.
As for the 5-foot-11, 180 pound Antoine, he signed his NOJHL papers for the Red Wings after having played two full seasons in the aforementioned Great North Under 18 Hockey League, suiting up for both the Sudbury Minor Wolves and Kapuskasing Flyers.
• In a major development and as was first reported here, Erie Otters of the OHL are sending one of their top prospects to develop with the Blind River Beavers for the 2021-2022 season.
He is 2005 birth year defenseman George Alboim, who Erie took in the fourth round of this year’s OHL priority selections draft from the Central Ontario Wolves.
Blind River general manager and coach Kyle Brick told Hockey News North that the 6-foot-2, 175 pound Alboim is “an elite talent who will play a lot of heavy minutes for us on the back end. This kid is a flat out player and the fans in Blind River should be excited to see him. We are happy to get him ready to play for Erie.”
Meanwhile, Devin Brown, who is the co-director of scouting for Erie, noted that in Alboim, Blind River is being entrusted to develop “a complete right shot defenseman who demonstrates a strong work ethic both on and off the ice. George takes care of his defensive zone and likes to contribute offensively as well. Managing the puck effectively, joining the rush, and supporting his forwards in the offensive zone are strengths of his. In addition, George displays a ton of confidence, is super competitive and a natural leader.”
• Soo Thunderbirds have a new ownership group along with incoming management and coaches.
Former Ontario Hockey League and National Hockey League star defenseman and current Pittsburgh Penguins executive Trevor Daley and his business partner Cole Jarrett are the new owners of the Thunderbirds.
Jarrett, a former mainstay OHL defenseman and European pro of many years, will also serve as head coach of the Thunderbirds.
And the hard-working, hard-driven Jamie Henderson is in place as general manager and between him and Jarrett, a roster that is heavy on local Soo talent is mainly in place ahead of the upcoming season.
Among the new local talent is veteran NOJHL skater Cole Delarosbil, who was acquired by the Thunderbirds earlier this summer from the Espanola Express. A big forward, Delarosbil played the past two NOJHL seasons in Espanola, totaling 11 goals, five assists, 16 points in 38 games for the Express.
• Homegrown product Bobby Price tops a list of five graduates of the Michigan Soo Eagles who are moving up to the college ranks this fall.
A 6-foot, 190 pound forward who played three seasons with the Eagles, Price is heading to Trine University, which is a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 3 school.
Also headed to Trine is defenseman Nolan Dresch.
Meanwhile, forward Joe Martin has committed to Hamline University, which is an NCAA Division 3 school. And forward-defenseman Malik Ali and defenseman Alex Carrothers are both off to Indiana Tech, which is an American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 1 program.
• Meanwhile, over in Espanola, Express owner and president Jason Rapcewicz will also coach the efficient, small-market franchise this coming season.
Rapcewicz takes the wheel of the Express from former bench boss Brent Hughes, who has taken a coaching job in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Rapcewicz made a blockbuster trade during the summer in acquiring three 20-year old players from the Kam River Fighting Walleye of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League in a cash exchange — sizeable defensemen Zachary Fulton and Caleb Resch and hulking forward Ben Couvier.
All three players are from Western Canada and will be looking to be impact players in their final season of junior hockey. And Rapcewicz, as the hockey boss, likes what he has in the former Kam River trio.
For starters, Rapcewicz said Resch reminds him somewhat of former Express all-star defenseman Mattais Salem, who led the team in scoring during the 2019-2020 season with 16 goals, 50 assists, 66 points.
“Resch has similar qualities as Salem, just not quite as high end maybe. But he will definitely be a top two d-man for us,” Rapcewicz told Hockey News North.
“He is an offensive minded d-man who will be able to quarterback our power play,” Rapcewicz added, in further assessment of Resch. “He gives us some valuable experience as a big piece of the puzzle. It was well worth going out and getting him from Kam River along with Couvier and Fulton.”
Of note, Rapcewicz referred to the 6-foot-3, 185 pound Couvier as a big, physical power forward and to the 6-foot-3, 195 pound Fulton as a good, steady, stay at home defender.
“We got a lot of value in the trade,” noted Rapcewicz.
• A good, old grizzled coach with a winning past is returning to the NOJHL for the 2021-2022 season.
Dave Clancy has signed on with the Rayside Balfour Canadians as an associate coach alongside head coach Vagelli Sakellaris.
One of the good guys of the game, the 58-year old Clancy did not coach during the abbreviated 2020-2021 season after a two-year gig with Espanola that included him being named NOJHL coach of the year for the 2019-2020 campaign.
Clancy was also the coach of the erstwhile Sudbury Junior Wolves when they won the NOJHL title a dozen years ago.
A colourful character, Clancy is also a former scout with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.