Given that both the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons did not end in completion relative to COVID-19, the Hearst Lumberjacks remain as the reigning champions heading into the 2021-2022 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League season.
Hearst won the 2018-2019 NOJHL title when the visiting Lumberjacks upset the heavily favoured Soo Thunderbirds in the seventh and deciding game of the league championship series.
Now, as the Lumberjacks prepare for a fifth campaign in the NOJHL — Hearst entered the league in 2017 and won the championship in its second season of existence after the franchise relocated from Iroquois Falls — general manager Jonathan Blier and head coach Marc-Alain Begin are hard at work ahead of the looming 2021-2022 term.
Blier and Begin were both assistants under former coach and general manager Marc Lafleur — now of the Powassan Voodoos — when Hearst won the 2018-2019 NOJHL title. And Blier told Hockey News North that the Lumberjacks are looking forward to what hopefully will be a full schedule of return to play in the fall.
“We are busy as a staff … we are looking good so far with a corps of returning veterans who have committed to us,” relayed Blier. “And as we are recruiting we are looking for good players who are also of good character.”
As part of the NOJHL’s East Division — along with the Cochrane Crunch, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Timmins Rock, French River Rapids and aforementioned Powassan Voodoos — Blier said the Lumberjacks “will be competing hard to try to have as a good a team as we can … we look at it as though we are still the defending league champions.”
At the head of hockey operations — and with an exceptional support staff — are Blier and Begin, who are both Hearst natives and who have been with the Lumberjacks since their debut season of 2017-2018.
An educator and currently a school principal in Hearst, the 42-year old Blier played in both the Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Central Canada Hockey League as a teen. He has also coached and been an administrator of minor hockey in his hometown.
As for the soon to be 30-year old Begin, he is a former NOJHL scoring star with the erstwhile Abitibi Eskimos who went on to play in parts of three seasons in the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League and two more at the Ontario University Athletics level.
A model NOJHL franchise in a small town of about 5,000 residents, the Lumberjacks routinely play in front of crowds of 700 spectators at Claude Larose Recreation Centre.