It is a pause relative to Omicron, not a postponement. As such, there is good reason to believe that junior A hockey activity in Ontario will resume from provincial government exile either later this month or by early February. Which — for those of us from the north — seems to suggest that play in both the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Superior International Jr. Hockey League will recommence for the 2022 segment of the season sooner than later.
To be sure, there is a lot of hockey left to play in both leagues — and there is a fair amount of time to do so, through to the end of the regular season and the playoffs. Looking further ahead, the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada junior A hockey championship tournament is not scheduled to take place until May 10 to 14.
The SIJHL and the NOJHL will be in majority representation at May’s DHC.
Red Lake Miners of the SIJHL will be the host team for the annual event. And joining host Red Lake at the four-team DHC will be the champions of the SIJHL, the NOJHL and the Ontario Jr. Hockey League. Should Red Lake win the SIJHL championship for the 2021-2022 season, the league’s runner-up team will be the fourth entry into the DHC tournament.
So, in other words, there is a 75 per cent chance that a team from either the SIJHL or the NOJHL will win this year’s DHC championship.
At any rate, with Red Lake guaranteed an entry into the 2022 DHC, let us take a look at the top contenders from the two northern leagues that could earn two of the other spots at this year’s ‘Dudley.’
• Timmins Rock, NOJHL. (23-5-2, 48 points.) Already the top team among the 12 of the NOJHL through 2021, Timmins only got better at the January 10 trade deadline in adding two more defensemen to go with a back end that features crackerjack blue liners Cameron Dutkiewicz and Bode Dunford. The Rock can defend and it can go on the attack like few other teams. And not only is Brandon Perry a good coach, the kid is a very astute general manager.
• Kam River Fighting Walleye, SIJHL. (22-3-1, 45 points) The first place team in the SIJHL, Kam River added on prior to the trade deadline and got bigger and better. A prize catch for the Fish was 20-year old forward Dayton Clarke via the Elliot Lake Red Wings of the NOJHL. Four lines deep up front and on the back end, the well coached and well managed Fighting Walleye also has a 1-2 net tandem that takes a back seat to no one. Can the newest member of the SIJHL make it to the DHC? Led by forwards Alex Enegren and Trent Morriseau, defenseman Zach Fortin and no. 1 goalie Austin Madge, it just might.
• Hearst Lumberjacks, NOJHL. (22-7-2, 46 points.) Well coached by young Marc-Alain Begin, Hearst has impact forwards in Robbie Rutledge, Zachary Demers, Raphael Lajeunesse and Mathieu Comeau, high scoring defenders in Jaden Raad and Dylan Ford and a 1-2 goalie duo of Liam Oxner and Matteo Gennaro that is comparable to any in the league.
• Dryden Ice Dogs, SIJHL. (16-9-1, 33 points.) The explosive Ice Dogs feature productive forwards such as Maxime Collette, Tristan Takats, Brady Frattinger, Cameron Ware, Derek Koivisto and Ondrej Bardos and young, plum defenseman Dayvan Bull. The Ice Dogs also added on at the trade deadline with forwards Nakoda Thunderchief from the SIJHL’s Fort Frances Lakers and Pineshish Whiteduck from the Espanola Express of the NOJHL among the newcomers to Dryden. The Ice Dogs can score, they are big, and they are tough. Kurt Walsten is Dryden’s veteran general manager and coach of many years. The inimitable Walsten has been coaching in Dryden since 2014 and has led the Ice Dogs to two SIJHL championships and two league final appearances during his tenure.
• Powassan Voodoos, NOJHL. (21-6-5, 47 points.) Two names stand out among the others in a big, big way for the Voodoos — two time NOJHL championship coach Marc Lafleur (with both Hearst and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners) and 20-year old goalie Alex Bugeja. No one is going to out coach Lafleurand Bugeja has won games by himself this season over league-leading Timmins.
• Soo Thunderbirds, NOJHL. (19-4-5, 43 points.) The T-Birds got weaker at the trade deadline when they moved out high scoring forward Tyson Doucette and high end defenseman Creo Solomon to the OJHL in cash transactions. But the first place team in the West Division has an exceptional coaching staff and will go as far as the goalie duo of Noah Zeppa and Noah Metivier will take them.
• Blind River Beavers, NOJHL. (14-9-2, 30 points.) This is the Hockey News North dark horse team. Led by general manager and coach Kyle Brick, the Beavers have a three-headed monster between the pipes in Jeremy Delaquis, Gavin Disano and Patrick Boivin, the latter who was acquired from Espanola at the trade deadline. Blind River also has impact skaters up front and on the back end led by Caleb Minns and Ethan Pegg.