All 12 teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League saw action as 2023-2024 regular season play began over the past few days.
Our list of highlights is as follows.
• Goalie Noah Metivier backstopped the Sudbury Cubs to a pair of opening week victories. A Sault Ste. Marie native and former NOJHL champion with the Soo Thunderbirds, Metivier fashioned a .920 save percentage as the Cubs of Sudbury skated to a pair of home ice victories. The Cubs clipped the Hearst Lumberjacks by a 7-4 score and then cuffed the defending champion Timmins Rock by a 5-2 margin.
• It was a rocky start for the reigning champion Rock of Timmins. After losing 5-2 to Sudbury, Timmins gave up a three goal lead and somehow lost a 6-5 overtime road decision to the Elliot Lake Vikings.
• The newly named Vikings drew close to 500 fans for their home opener at Centennial Arena in Elliot Lake. And the fans had plenty to celebrate with the frantic 6-5 come from behind overtime victory by the hometown Vikings. The win came after Elliot Lake began the season with a 5-4 road loss to its arch-rival Blind River Beavers. Rookie forward Gavin McLenaghan was a standout for Elliot Lake in the first games of the season. Hailing from Miramichi, New Brunswick, the 6-foot-1, 190 pound McLenaghan scored two goals in each of the two games for the Vikings.
• Formerly the Cochrane Crunch, now the Iroquois Falls Storm, it was a triumphant start to the ’23-24 season for the relocated franchise. Playing before well over 900 fans at venerable Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls, the Storm skated to a 3-2 overtime win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners. During the past few seasons in Cochrane, the team routinely played to crowds of less than 150 fans.
• Espanola Paper Kings are off to a perfect start following a pair of home ice triumphs. The Paper Kings clipped the Hearst Lumberjacks in a wild 8-6 decision and then outscored the Soo Thunderbirds en route to a 5-2 verdict. Hailing from Bancroft, Ontario, off season acquisition Owen Fergusson powered the Paper Kings with two goals, six assists, eight points in the two wins. And Andrew Gaulton, the top goalie prospect of the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League, made 34 saves in the Paper Kings win over the Thunderbirds.
• Another team with a 2-0 start is the Blind River Beavers. Playing at home, the Beavers edged Elliot Lake 5-4 before rolling past the French River Rapids in a 9-2 rout. Veteran forward Michael Gallagher came through with three goals, three assists, six points in the two Blind River wins.