Teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League are able to recruit players from all over Canada, not to mention the United States. But homegrown players from northern Ontario remain popular among NOJHL teams.
Of particular note, four teams that saw action in the NOJHL’s West Division during the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL season — Rayside Balfour Canadians, Soo Thunderbirds, Espanola Express and Blind River Beavers — paid particular attention to northern Ontario and combined to have 50 players from the north who were on active rosters when the 2020-2021 campaign came to a close.
Add in another 20 or so northern Ontario products who suited up for the other five NOJHL teams that were active in 2020-2021 — Cochrane Crunch, Timmins Rock, Hearst Lumberjacks, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and French River Rapids — and the league was home to more than 70 players from towns such as Blind River, Chelmsford, Dowling, Garson, Hanmer, Iroquois Falls, Little Current, Lively, Marathon, Massey, Moose Factory, Nipigon, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thessalon, Thunder Bay, Timmins et al.
Rayside Balfour led the way by having 18 northern Ontario boys, the Soo was close behind with 15, followed by Espanola with 10 and Blind River with eight.
And of the 70 or so northern lads who saw action for the nine teams that were active in 2020-2021, the majority of them are eligible to return to the NOJHL come the 2021-2022 season as players born in either 2001, 2002, 2003 or 2004.
The list of potential high-end returnees not only bodes well for the NOJHL and the various teams but accentuates the fact that northern Ontario continues to produce its share of junior level players who seemingly have the talent and ability to advance to higher stages of the game at some point.
Looking ahead at just a sampling of the top players from the north who could well be back in the NOJHL in 2021-2022, the list is an impressive one.
Indeed, it is a register that includes forwards Gavin Brown, Owen Perala and Mitchell Martin, defensemen Chris Innes and Graeme Siren and goalie Jake Marois of Rayside Balfour; forwards Michael Chaffay, Tyson Doucette, Kurtis Rogers, Brock Santa Maria, Cooper Smyl and Ty Zachary and defenseman Cameron Dutkiewicz of the Soo; forwards Bradley Brunet, Cole Delarosbil, Devon Savignac and Cameron Walker and defensemen A.J. Favot and Jordan Ritchie of Espanola; forward Nick Jameus, defenseman Mason Chitaroni and goalie Gavin Disano of Blind River; forwards Harry Clark, Landon Deforge and Pierre Racicot of Timmins; forwards Kobe Barrette and Matthew Hill and defenseman Keaston Blais of Cochrane.
Then there is a fleet of grassroots talent from the Great North Under 18 Hockey League that is poised to move up to any of a number of NOJHL teams come the 2021-2022 campaign.
To be sure — and as they should — NOJHL coaches and managers will continue to scout and scour rinks from across Canada and the U.S. in their search for talent.
Meanwhile, there is a lot of said talent to choose from in the rinks of northern Ontario.