NE Ontario season scenarios

January 23, 2021
Cameron Dutkiewicz of the Soo Thunderbirds and Devon Savignac of the Espanola Express both have eyes on the puck in NOJHL action from last month. (photo by Chelsea Solomon)

The best that hockey leagues in northeastern Ontario can hope for relative to the provincial government’s stay at home order is that the current lock down will be lifted on schedule on or about the weekend of February 12.

Hope is an operative word in this current climate of COVID-19. And given that northeastern Ontario is not home to any COVID-19 hot spot areas, a return to play in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Great North Under 18 Hockey League may be within reach at some point in February.

In a good case scenario, with the approval of the various public health units of Ontario as well as the provincial government, we could well see a return to play for both of the aforementioned northeastern Ontario based leagues.

And with the co-operation of the various municipalities that operate community-owned rinks, perhaps deals can be struck that will keep ice in the arenas into the month of May.

That would and could, for example, allow the nine operating teams of the NOJHL to get in eight or nine more weeks of regular season play and, perhaps, a shortened playoff schedule.

And ditto for the six major and two minor teams that operate as members of the information-elusive, Great North U18 loop.

The nine teams of the NOJHL have currently played an impressive 41 of the 44 scheduled matches that took place between mid November and the third week of December.

In the NOJHL West Division, the Espanola Express (4-4-2) and Rayside Balfour Canadians (3-6-1) have both played 10 games, Blind River Beavers (5-3-0) and Soo Thunderbirds (4-3-1) have seen action in eight outings apiece, while the French River Rapids (3-3-0) have skated in six contests.

And in the NOJHL East Division, Timmins Rock (9-3-0) and Hearst Lumberjacks (7-5-0) have both played 12 games, Cochrane Crunch (3-6-2) has been involved in 11 outings and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (3-2-0) have skated in six matches.

(Powassan Voodoos, because of arena issues, have officially taken a leave of absence for the balance of the season. And the Soo Eagles have yet to play a game against NOJHL competition this season because of the closure of the Canada/United States border, though the Michigan-based team has played a number of exhibition matches against American squads and schools.)

Over to the Great North U18 loop, slated major division, exhibition mini matches between cohort opponents Soo Jr. Greyhounds v. Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves, Timmins Majors v. Kapuskasing Flyers and New Liskeard Cubs v. North Bay Trappers have all reportedly taken place on schedule.

But the Great North has not posted any sort of game results or standings information — and news to come out of the league office has been as scarce as snow in July, leaving any media person to deal directly with individual team representatives.

As for the number of games that could be played in the NOJHL should play resume in, say, the latter part of February — the nine active teams could still total anywhere from 25 to 35 contests apiece over the course of the season as opposed to the 56 that each club played over past regular seasons.

Would that be ideal? Well, there is no ideal these days.

Prior formats are out the window due to COVID-19. And any return to play in any form of modified schedule would, I am quite sure, be most welcomed and appreciated by players, coaches, managers, owners, fans, and media alike.

Here is hoping that hockey in northeastern Ontario gets the go ahead from public health and the government on schedule and on time as all concerned continue to do due diligence as per following the rules of these trying times.

To be sure, the words ‘hope and hockey’ are going hand in hand more than ever these days.

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