Major change will be in effect when regular season action in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League begins in the middle of September.
First and foremost, the NOJHL will require that all players, coaches, trainers, team and league staff, officials, volunteers and billet families be double vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to protect against the potential transmission of the virus.
Meanwhile, there has been remodeling and recast of significant note relative to three NOJHL teams in particular.
• Soo Thunderbirds have a new day to day operator in former Ontario Hockey League, European pro and North American pro defenseman Cole Jarrett.
The 38-year old Jarrett has been the captain of teams he has played on in the OHL and over in Europe and represents a new direction as part owner, operator and head coach of the Thunderbirds.
Jarrett will have, as his right hand man, Jamie Henderson, who is no stranger to the NOJHL and the Thunderbirds, having been with them on two previous occasions. Henderson is in place as the Thunderbirds general manager and assistant coach and carries with him a reputation as a hard worker and front row student of the game.
On the ice, the Thunderbirds will have a dominant local look led by the likes of high end, veteran forwards such as Michael Chaffay, Cole Delarosbil, Tyson Doucette, Brock Santa Maria et al.
Keep an eye on Doucette as a young, emerging NOJHL star with a 2004 birth date.
Known for his smarts, skill and work ethic, size became Doucette’s drawback as he moved up through the AAA minor hockey ranks in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie.
As a 15-year old while skating for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, Doucette was a mere 5-foot-4, 115 pounds.
Still, Doucette impressed the NOJHL Thunderbirds enough last fall to make the team as one of its two 16-year olds. And as Doucette grew to 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, his offensive game began to take off.
Now, Doucette is even bigger at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds — and still growing.
• The new Elliot Lake Red Wings have scored twice without playing a game.
As Elliot Lake is poised to return to the NOJHL for the 2021-2022 season after being on leave of absence in 2020-2021, the rebranded Red Wings — formerly known as the Wildcats — will have a pair of notable local lads in the lineup, namely defenseman Teegan Dumont and center Alexandre Antoine.
The 6-foot-2, 220 pound, right hand shooting Dumont was obtained by the Red Wings in a future considerations trade with the nearby rival Blind River Beavers earlier this summer.
Dumont suited up in 12 contests for Blind River during the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL campaign.
Prior to the 2020-2021 campaign, Dumont played two full seasons in the Great North Under 18 Hockey League as a standout for both the Sudbury Minor Wolves and Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves.
As for the 5-foot-11, 180 pound Antoine, he signed his NOJHL papers with the Red Wings after having played two full seasons in the aforementioned Great North Under 18 Hockey League, suiting up for both the Sudbury Minor Wolves and Kapuskasing Flyers.
Without a doubt, Dumont and Antoine both loom as local crowd favourites for the junior hockey starved fans of Elliot Lake.
As for the change in operation, the Red Wings are being led by managing director Paul Noad with vice president of hockey operations Mark Savery, general manager John Buchanan, head coach Brian Noad and assistant coach Adam Lamarre all newly on board.
Paul Noad and Brian Noad are brothers.
Savery and Buchanan and both have extensive management and player personnel backgrounds on the Ontario junior hockey scene. And Brian Noad has 35 years of coaching experience with AAA and junior teams in Ontario and Alberta.
To be sure, the incoming management and coaching team has nowhere to go but up as it strives to make a successful new beginning for junior hockey in Elliot Lake, a town of more than 10,000 residents that is located off of Highway 17 between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
Elliot Lake’s last season in the NOJHL — the 2019-2020 campaign — was a disaster under the Wildcats moniker. The Wildcats finished in last place in the 12-team NOJHL with a record of 7-46-3.
• Timmins Rock certainly did well by staying local in hiring hard driven, hard working Brandon Perry as its new coach and general manager.
Perry, who coached the Timmins Majors of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League for the past four seasons, took over from coach Corey Beer and GM Kevin Peever in being hired for the dual role with the NOJHL Rock during the off season.
The 32-year old Perry played minor hockey in his hometown of Timmins before suiting up for the Kingston Voyageurs of the Ontario Jr. Hockey League for four seasons and then four more years with the Queen’s Golden Gaels of Ontario University Athletics. He graduated from prestigious Queen’s with a degree in Economics.
Known for being passionately proud of his home town as a quiet, albeit tenacious individual, Perry gained a reputation for getting the most out of his players while coaching the Timmins under 18 team.