Beavers, Birds and baptism

June 6, 2024

It has been up and down and all around since I really got into close up coverage and insight on the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. I had covered the NOJHL here and there over time but began year round coverage of it in earnest back in 2004 when well known coach Jim Capy parted ways with the Soo Thunderbirds after taking them to the league championship series in four successive seasons.

For whatever reason, the Thunderbird owners of that time — the well intentioned duo of Pat Egan and Al Jones — didn’t want Capy back. But Capy would not be without a coaching gig for long. Just down the highway from Sault Ste. Marie — 90 miles or so — the Blind River Beavers were quick to make a splash and hired Capy as their new head coach not long after the Thunderbirds showed him the door.

I remember it well. It was a good story. It even included a press conference or two. And Capy, who made for good copy — and loved the attention — was the main attraction. The sports writers in Sault Ste. Marie made sure of that.

Blind River had known little success in the four prior years since it had re-entered the NOJHL. But Capy was about to change that as the new bench boss of the Beavers. He did it his own way, as a coach, a recruiter and a salesmen to players not only in northern Ontario but into the United States. And Capy did it rather well.

In the four seasons before Capy’s arrival, Blind River had won just 31 games in total. However, in Capy’s first season at the helm in Blind River, the Beavers posted a regular season record of 27-18-3 before losing in the playoffs to the Thunderbirds. But it didn’t really matter — except to Capy perhaps — that Blind River came up just short.

To the rest of us — in an instant, it seemed — a rabid rivalry was born. On one side there were Capy and the small town Beavers. On the opposite side there were the big market Thunderbirds — Capy’s old team — and incoming head coach Zoltan (Toots) Kovacs. And like Capy, Kovacs didn’t mind the attention of the sports media.

There was plenty to write about. To be sure, Capy and Kovacs gave me more than enough to write about. There were chirps and jabs and and the rivalry only intensified as the season went on.

Capy became somewhat of a cult hero in the gritty mill town of Blind River. He was bold and brash and not for the faint of heart. And he showed his dedication by traveling 180 miles round trip from his Sault Ste. Marie home to Blind River — on a rickety old school bus, no less — for weekday evening practices that didn’t end until midnight was approaching.

As for Kovacs, he was a player’s coach who wasn’t big on the X and O drills that Capy was all about. But Kovacs was a master motivator and he had a bit more of a soft touch than Capy.

Capy and Kovacs. Hockey friends off the ice, the two were villains towards one another on the ice. And both had sizeable egos while craving the coverage of the local media, be it the Sault This Week or the Sault Star.

As for me, the Sault This Week hockey writer, I absolutely loved — and helped create — the Beavers/Thunderbirds rivalry. I more than enhanced it back than by feeding the flames of passion while showing a tad of favouritism towards the little guys from Blind River. And why not? If the Thunderbirds could have the Sault Star sports writers of that time as their lap dogs, I could absolutely embrace siding with the small town underdogs from Blind River.

On and on it went. Quotes. More quotes. Jibber. Jabber. Incidents. Insults. Pre game and post game war zones at the Riverside Tavern in Blind River. More of the same at Brody’s Sports Bar in the Sault. Talk. More talk. Fuel. Fire. Frick. Frack. Yip. Yap. Beavers. Birds.

It was that ’04-05 season that really got me hooked on the NOJHL. It was all about the Birds and the Beavers back then. Or, if you will, the Beavers and the Birds.

Capy and Kovacs. The birth of an intense rivalry. The names have changed over the years. The Beavers are still the small town favourites. The Birds are, well, they are the Birds from the bigger city.

As of this writing, 20 years have gone by since the Beavers of Blind River got baptism by fire in the person of coach Jim Capy, who is now retired from the game. And like him or not — back then, sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, mostly I did — he was and still is, a one and only.

Meanwhile, the rivalry between the two teams carries on. Blind River. Sault Ste. Marie. One is a small town. One is a bigger town. Both are still worth watching and writing about it.

Beavers. Birds. Birds. Beavers. The order doesn’t matter. Nor should it. B and B. Like bed and breakfast.

What you think about “Beavers, Birds and baptism”

  1. Great comment Randy. Watch the same dynamic develop between The Timmins Rock and the Iroquois Falls Storm. By the end of the regular season Timmins was scrambling to get a win. The first season of the Storm was an overall success and the rivalry between Timmins and Iroquois Falls is spirited, Both rinks get good crowds supporting both teams.

  2. Thanks for the memories Randy. It’s the great rivalries that make the NOJHL go. Jim Capy was a great coach and is real good person. Over the years Jimmy helped a lot of kids move on to college and the OHL.

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