There has been measurable, observable activity since the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League officially re-opened for business on June 1 ahead of the 2022-2023 season.
Highlighting the motion and movement have been player signings and exchanges as well as coach and management activeness. Following is a Hockey News North assembly of the more appreciable actions through the month of June.
• Blind River Beavers made a big pond splash on the open player market. In stunning succession, Blind River general manager and coach Kyle Brick signed three blossoming players — a defenseman, a forward and a goalie — from the regular season and playoff champion Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League.
The signings of defenseman Matthew Kallo, forward Noah Aboflan, and goalie Charlie Burns represent a major coup for the Beavers, who are coming off of a 25-17-6 regular season record in 2021-2022 that was followed by two rounds of the playoffs.
Kallo, who has a 2005 birth date, skated in 21 regular season games with the Great North champion Jr. Greyhounds in 2021-2022 and also suited up with Blind River for five NOJHL matches as an affiliate player. The 6 foot, 180 pound Kallo is an under-rated defender who takes care of his territory.
Aboflan, who has a 2005 birth date, tallied 15 goals, six assists, 21 points in 18 regular season games for the Jr. Greyhounds in ’21-22 before finding the range for two goals, three assists, five points in five playoff outings.
Burns, a 6-foot-1, 160 pound, 2006 birth year goalie, was the top goalie in the Great North in 2021-2022 for the Jr. Greyhounds and was subsequently taken by the Niagara Ice Dogs in the ninth round of the 2022 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
• Blind River also snagged another top prospect via the Great North program in 2005 birth year defenceman Tucker McConnell-Fritz from the Timmins Majors.
McConnell-Fritz showed an offensive upside from his defence position in 23 regular season games for the U18 Majors in 2021-2022 with two goals, 12 assists, 14 points.
• A pair of highly touted Ontario born skaters were swooped up by the Michigan-based Soo Eagles — hard rock defenseman Dawson Wilson and polished forward Nolan Hendry. Wilson hails from Sault Ste. Marie while Hendry is a Mississauga lad. Both have 2005 birth dates.
Wilson, who played high school hockey locally for the St. Mary’s Knights in 2021-2022, impressed enough at that level that he received an invitation to attend the recent prospects camp of the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
Hendry, meanwhile, was a productive forward with the under 18 Guelph Jr. Gryphons in 2021-2022, netting 13 goals, eight assists, 21 points in 31 games.
Notably, Eagles head coach Doug Laprade played alongside Hendry’s dad, John, with the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association powerhouse Lake Superior State Lakers from 1989 to 1991. Both were forwards and became National Hockey League draft picks; Laprade by the Los Angeles Kings and Hendry by the Detroit Red Wings.
• Darryl Moxam has long been a positive fixture in Sudbury as a high level hockey coach of good repute with multiple affiliations in his home town. And the 45-year old Moxam is back in the NOJHL via the OHL — and without leaving Sudbury.
The hiring of Moxam by the Sudbury Cubs could well be termed a game winning goal by the NOJHL’s biggest market team.
Fresh from a half dozen years as an assistant and associate coach with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, Moxam opted to depart the major junior team to return to the NOJHL with the Cubs. Moxam was a coach with the erstwhile Sudbury Northern Jr. Wolves when they won the NOJHL championship in 2006.
Notably, the NOJHL Wolves at that time were owned by Mark Burgess and managed by Blaine Smith as an affiliate of the OHL Wolves. Burgess owned both teams then with Smith as his chief lieutenant. Ironically, both are now in the same positions with the NOJHL Cubs after having moved on from the OHL Wolves in an ownership sale of a few years back.
In returning to the NOJHL and Sudbury, Moxam has retained trusted old sidekick Dave Clancy as his associate coach. Clancy and Moxam will also share the general manager’s duties for the Cubs.
• And the Cubs stayed in their own back yard to sign the 2021-2022 Northern Ontario Hockey Association player of the year. He is 2006 birth year forward Nolan Newton, who was a fifth round pick of the Barrie Colts at the 2022 OHL priority selections draft from the Sudbury Nickel Capitals of the Great North Under 18 loop.
The 5-foot-10, 170 pound Newton netted 14 goals, 22 assists, 36 points in 27 games to lead the under 16 Nickel Capitals in scoring during the ’21-22 Great North season. He also appeared in nine NOJHL games with the Cubs and collected one goal, three assists, four points.
• Jason Rapcewicz hired an experienced asset and some much needed help for the hockey operations department of the Espanola Express.
Rapcewicz performed workhorse duties for the Express during the 2021-2022 season as owner, president, general manager and head coach while also holding holding down a position with Canada Post in Espanola.
Looking to both reduce his workload and add to the staff on the Express train yard, Rapcewicz brought Trevor Ritchie on board as general manager. Ritchie brings the experience of having previously worked with three NOJHL teams to Espanola.
After a season as an assistant coach with the Blind River Beavers, Ritchie then spent two years with the Elliot Lake Wildcats, first as an assistant, then as interim head coach. Ritchie then began the 2019-2020 season as coach and GM of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners only to be relieved of his duties after just 25 games.
• Timmins Rock will have a new net duo for the 2022-2023 season as general manager and coach Brandon Perry acquired high end veteran Patrick Boivin in a trade with Blind River and signed prize rookie Jacob Brown.
Boivin, who has a 2003 birth date, is coming off of a 2021-2022 NOJHL season in which he did good work for both Espanola and Blind River. Between the Express and the Beavers, Boivin posted a 14-17-4 regular season record with a 3.38 goals against average, .902 save percentage and three shutouts. He also used his puck-moving abilities to record four assists from his goalie position.
Brown, a 6-foot-1, 180 pound puck-stopper with a 2006 birth date, was taken by the Flint Firebirds in the fourth round of the 2022 OHL priority selections draft. Brown tended twine for the under 16 Kingston Gaels in 2021-2022.
• Reigning East Division playoff champion Hearst Lumberjacks added highly-regarded New Liskeard product Adam Shillinglaw in a trade with Espanola.
Shillinglaw, a 6-foot-2, 170 pound defenseman with a 2004 birth date, netted four goals, 13 assists, 17 points in 41 regular season games as a rookie for Espanola in 2021-2022.
• And an inter-league transaction landed Hearst a good size defenseman with experience.
Ethan Kitsch, a 6-foot-3, 180 pound blue liner with a 2002 birth date, was obtained by the Lumberjacks from the Renfrew Wolves of the Central Canada Hockey League.
Kitsch divided the 2021-2022 season between Renfrew and the Mission City Outlaws of the Pacific Jr. Hockey League. He netted three goals, two assists, five points in eight games with Mission City before heading to Renfrew where he totalled five assists, five points in 21 outings.
• Looking to add a goalie following the graduation of workhorse Michael Nickolau to the West Virginia Mountaineers of the Division 1, American Collegiate Hockey Association ranks, the Cochrane Crunch acquired 2002 birth year net minder Jacob Dubinsky from the North Okanagan Knights of the Kootenay International Jr. B Hockey League.
Dubinsky had a record of 5-14-4 with a very respectable .904 save percentage and equally impressive 3.82 goals against average for North Okanagan, which missed the playoffs in the KIJHL in 2021-2022.
• Richard Solomon, who has a life-long association with the game as a player, minor hockey coach and official in Cochrane, has joined the Crunch as an assistant coach under owner and head coach Tom Nickolau.
• Utilizing their affiliation with the North Bay Battalion of the OHL, the Powassan Voodoos signed defenseman Tyson Rismond. A 2006 birth year skater, Rismond played for the Sudbury Nickel Capitals of the Great North in 2021-2022.
A fourth round pick by North Bay at the 2022 OHL priority selections draft, Rismond rang up four goals, 10 assists, 14 points in 23 regular season games for the Nickel Capitals in ’21-22.
• And Powassan signed a prospect of the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL by way of the under 16 North Bay Trappers of the Great North.
2006 birth year defenseman Zachary Major will begin his development in the NOJHL with Powassan this coming season. The 6-foot-2, 190 pound Major was picked by Owen Sound in the ninth round of the 2022 OHL priority selections draft from North Bay, where he netted four goals, nine assists, 13 points in 23 games in the Great North in 2021-2022.
Major also saw action as an affiliate player for Powassan in ’21-22 over eight games, including six playoff matches with the Voodoos.
• Championship coach Marc Lafleur is moving up from Powassan to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.
The 46-year old Lafleur has joined the New Brunswick-based Titan as an assistant coach under general manager and head coach Jason Clarke. It is a return to the QMJHL for Lafleur, who was an assistant coach with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies from 2010 to 2012.
An intense individual and a person of good character, Lafleur spent the 2021-2022 season as Powassan’s bench boss after having had previous NOJHL championship success with both the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and his hometown Hearst Lumberjacks.
• Powassan then named Peter Goulet as its new head coach.
The veteran junior A hockey bench boss spent the past three seasons as coach and general manager of the Trenton Golden Hawks of the Ontario Jr. Hockey League. He had previous championship success in the OJHL with the Kingston Voyageurs.