Northeast nook of a growing NOJHL

May 10, 2015

They are four hockey towns in a northeast nook of the region, separated by less than two hours of rugged roads.

Timmins Rock, Iroquois Falls Eskimos, Cochrane Crunch and Kirkland Lake Gold Miners figure to be fierce foes when the first pucks drop on the 2015-2016 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League season in about four months.

Geography is not the only factor that will play into the robust rivalry between the four teams.

For years, the Iroquois Falls-based Abitibi Eskimos were the only NOJHL team in the region.

Then along came Kirkland Lake for the 2011-2012 season and Cochrane for the 2014-2015 campaign.

Now, Timmins will join the NOJHL for the 2015-2016 term following the relocation of the Abitibi franchise.

As for Iroquois Falls, it will have a new presence with the relocation of the Mattawa Blackhawks. Thus, the formation of the Iroquois Falls Eskimos for the 2015-2016 season.

“From an economical standpoint, having four teams so close together will keep travel costs down and that is something our league is very conscious of,” said NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca.

Then there is the natural on-ice rivalry brought upon by the closeness in proximity of the four towns.

To be sure, the four teams all have something to shoot for as they plan and prep for the much-anticipated 2015-2016 NOJHL season.

Timmins finally has a NOJHL team again after being without one for 17 years and with a population of 43,000 — which is double what Iroquois Falls, Cochrane and Kirkland Lake have combined — the Rock has a healthy fan base from which to draw.

In Paul Gagne, the Rock has the dean of NOJHL coaches in a 16-year veteran of bench duties in a league that looks to be bigger and better with 12 teams in 2015-2016.

Iroquois Falls, which saw its former team move 45 miles down the road to Timmins, looms as the feel-good story with new owner Allan Donnan, a fresh-minded coach in 29-year old Taurean White and unwavering fan support that has clicked the turnstiles with a per-game average of more than 500 for years now.

Over to Cochrane, coach-general manager (and owner) Ryan Leonard brought a winning team to town for its inaugural NOJHL season.

At the gate, the Crunch averaged 466 fans per outing — which was third best in the league — and on the ice, Leonard showed his abilities as a recruiter and coach.

The Crunch won two rounds of the playoffs and made it to the finals, giving the eventual-champion Soo Thunderbirds all they could handle before finally losing out. Thus, Cochrane heads into the 2015-2016 season as the defending East Division champions.

Kirkland Lake, meanwhile, has much to play for and plan for in 2015-2016.

For one, the Gold Miners — who won the NOJHL championship in 2013-2014 — will be out to rebound from a 2014-2015 campaign which saw them finish second overall behind the Soo during the regular season only to be stunned by the upstart Powassan Voodoos in the first round of the playoffs.

Without question, Gold Miners coach-general manager Marc Lafleur will want to ice a contending team in 2015-2016 as Kirkland Lake will have automatic entry in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada Championships as host team. It would not look good on Kirkland Lake or the NOJHL if the Gold Miners hosted the DHC as a so-so team.

Off the ice, Kirkland Lake, a gold-mining town of about 8,500 residents, will no doubt want to put on a good show as hosts of the 2016 DHC.

All in all, there is excitement in the northern air as spring turns to summer and fall takes over after that and leads us into winter and the full 2015-2016 NOJHL season.

With 12 teams in all, capped by the entry/return of the French River Rapids, the Espanola Express, the Michigan Soo Eagles and the re-branding of the Sudbury Nickel Barons as the Rayside-Balfour Canadiens, the NOJHL is taking it up a notch in 2015-2016.

Here’s to it — and with a glance and a glimpse and an icy stare at the NOJHL’s northeast nook.

What you think about “Northeast nook of a growing NOJHL”

  1. Gold Miners are gonna win it all…..Good Article RR…..Good job to bring the riavelry into play…..See ya up in K.L. soon okay.

  2. Looking forward to another year of NOJHL hockey. The new teams will be fun to watch and make the league more noticeable.

  3. Randy, do the Soo Eagles have rights to any players now that they are in the NOJ, or if they have to start from scratch are there any names we should look for that could help fill out the roster?

    1. Andy,

      It would up to the players on the Eagles roster whether they would want to move with the NAHL team to New Jersey or stay in the Soo as part of the NOJHL. From what I am told, the vast majority of the eligible returnees would like to continue to play in the NA.



  4. Ross,

    I believe that Gratton has committed to the Nipissing University Lakers of the OUA.

  5. I hope I m there when we beat Timmins just once is all that I ask so that I can see the look on Marshalls face.

  6. So verry well stated by you Randy .. a nice way to put in-to word’s what many Fans feel will be “Fire On Ice” and I for one cannot wait. My best to you Sir and we hope to see you at the “Mac” for a Game or 2.

  7. Eskisfan1999 – grow up, man – and set higher goals in life. Maybe mom n pop got you brainwashed.

  8. Eskiefan, Marshall and CO. were beat by them a few times last year, when the team was in Mattawa, he knows there is a great coach there and some talented hard working players. But I get what you are saying.

  9. Both management/ownership groups have a good respect for each other, which was evident in the press and during on ice pre-game ceremonies in Mattawa.

  10. Great news, just wondering if everything is confirmed with the Espanola Express. Are they confirmed in the nojhl? Where will there home ice be?

  11. Hey randy i got curious and check attendace at irofalls games. interesting fact:
    out of 26 home game , abitibi played 21 at the jusjordan and if you count all attendance figures from game sheet the average there was 478. i count 657 average for 5 games in Timins.
    yes i know abitibi fan go to timins, and timins fan go to abitibi but i think it work out in the washtub.
    All this means nothing exept to say that should be careful to not overlook fact that average of 512 or what ever is not all at the jus jordan. Not to offence but new eskimos will have a hard time getting 478 without timins fans coming except when rock play eskis.
    i think attendance leaders will be timmins, eliott lake, then cochrane, then eskis. then KL then anybody’s guess.
    Question for eski fans will cafeteria at the jordan be open? i hear the operator from last year did not renew contract and all his stuff has been takin out.

    eskisfan1999: my goal in life at this point is to spend my pension , pay less tax and annoy wippersnappers like you. well 2 out of 3 not bad.

  12. Jean Guy – you seem to worry alot about the fan base in Abitibi land , don`t worry we`ll be OK. Season tickets are a good indication & we`re doing OK .To answer one of your questions, word is Mr Donnan is taking over the caf. So maybe the caf. revenue will compensate for the lost of a few fans….
    Motleyrulez – you`re right Mattawa seem to have our number last yr.

  13. Jean Guy our fan base would be higher if that guy at the door at our sportman show would of left the people in just to buy there season tickets. He told the 90 OLD MAN that he had to pay $5.00 to go in and buy it so the OLD MAN turn around and left. and that guy at the door is on the Timmins Rock board of directors . there got it off my chest .

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