Prelude to an NOJHL season

August 24, 2015

Exhibition season is underway and less than three weeks remain until the start of what is a highly-anticipated, Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League campaign.

With an unprecedented number of teams, the NOJHL will operate in 2015-2016 with two divisions of six entries apiece.

The regular-season schedule will be unbalanced, based on divisions and geography and keeping ever-increasing operating costs in line.

While the beginning of the regular season is still a few weeks away, a number of teams are already seen as early contenders, based on quality player signings.

In the East Division, the pressure is on the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to ice a formidable team for a third successive season. Kirkland Lake will be the site of next spring’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada championship series and the last thing the Gold Miners and the NOJHL wants is to have a so-so team as the host.

Among the other five teams in the East Division, the Cochrane Crunch and Powassan Voodoos are seen as legitimate contenders.

Among others, Cochrane will return 60-goal scorer Dustin Cordeiro and prime-time puck-stopper Brett Young to a Crunch lineup that has been craftily constructed by hard-working coach-general manager Ryan Leonard.

As for Powassan, the second-year NOJHL entry stands to benefit from an off-season of detail that general manager Chris Dawson has overseen with the acquisition of veteran forwards Eric Champagne and Tyler Peters, the signing of newcomer goalies Mario Cavaliere and Garrett Forrest and the committed return of league scoring sensation Steven Harland.

Iroquois Falls Eskis may not be in the overall talent class of Kirkland Lake, Cochrane and Powassan at this stage of a season that has yet to begin. But Iroquois Falls will be out to retain its status as league attendance leaders from the 2014-2015 season.

Over to the West Division, the reigning champion Soo Thunderbirds will no doubt be a title contender once again with featured returnees that include forwards Jaren Bellini, Joey Miller, Matt Pinder and Matt Caruso.

Second-year entry, Elliot Lake Wildcats are poised to follow up a standout first season as a threat to overtake the holdover champs from the Soo.

High-scoring defenceman Nathan Campbell will be returning to Elliot Lake as will six of the Wildcats top nine forwards from the 2014-2015 campaign — Cole Hepler, Adam Baxter, Spencer MacLean, Alec MacKenzie, Jason Wilson and Liam Blais.

Michigan-based Soo Eagles are piecing together a solid squad in their return to the NOJHL following three seasons in the North American Hockey League. Of note, Eagles co-coaches Bruno Bragagnolo and Jim Capy have a combined 60-plus years of successful, high-level coaching experience.

Rayside-Balfour Canadians loom as an early darkhorse candidate with youngsters who could evolve into impact NOJHLers — 1998 birth-year defencemen Ryan Mooney and Brett Whitehead and 1999 birth-year forward Cayse Ton.


French River Rapids, Powassan Voodoos, Iroquois Falls Eskis, Cochrane Crunch, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Timmins Rock will make up the East Division. West Division teams are Soo Thunderbirds, Soo Eagles, Blind River Beavers, Elliot Lake Wildcats, Espanola Express and Rayside-Balfour Canadians.

PHOTO: Soo Thunderbirds forward Jaren Bellini, in action at last spring’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada championships that were held in Fort Frances.

What you think about “Prelude to an NOJHL season”

    1. Cochrane…Best goalie, #1 goal scorer, and best GM/Coach.
    2. Powasan…Good all round team.
    3. KL…Good every where except in net.
    4. Timmins…Money talks!
    5. Eskis…1st Place in Attendance! (thanks RR!)
    6. French Rivers…To many AA Midget/High School Players.

    1. I have Cochrane settling into second, but they and KL may play leap frog all season for that top spot. I don’t think Powassan has the up-front might to take second, but they aren’t as offensively challenged like a Timmins or French River. I have your Eskis in fourth and a dark horse of the group. They could be dangerous later on if they get on a roll and confidence is high. I definitely agree with you on French River… Their season could be full of rapids

  2. Keep your Eyes on Rayside as a team that will give the 2 Sault teams a run for their Money.
    Morin will be one of the best Goalie’s in the intire League IMHO.

  3. Rock are going to finish 1st then followed buy K.L. and then Cochrane, Powassen, I.F. and French Rapids.


    According to Wildcats general manager Todd Stencill, Hepler is one of 6 returning forwards who has signed.

    Btw, stop using fake e-mail addresses or you won’t be on here again, period.

  5. I noticed Nicky Grosse on the Eskies scoresheet. Good to see.
    He and Avery were arguably the two best Dee on the team last year. Nicky is a treat to watch. Skillset. ( Yes I can appreciate skilled players too).
    Biggest challenge with last years team was only Avery , St Germaine and Verville were true defenceman on the team, The rest were filling in from the get go. Grosse only played the prior year as a spare forward and defenceman when with the Trappers. So they had their work cut out for them. All the best to that crew.
    I’m routing for the Voodoos too, and they are assembling a contender there. All the best to all the players and teams. I hope no team get shut out of the win column this year , and lets hope every team can be a potential victor on any given night. Cheers!!

  6. 2015-16 Predictions

    Kirkland Lake
    Iroquois Falls
    French River

    Soo TBirds
    Soo Eagles
    Elliot Lake
    Rayside – Balfour
    Blind River

  7. AS long we have a team that will beat Timmins .and he wont get my 12.00 dollars during the regular game .CHOW

  8. Regardless of the talent, come out and support your nojhl team, this is the best hockey we will ever see up north and a real treat to watch.

  9. Agreed Northernlites!
    I was in Cochrane last week and watched the Crunch vs Kirkland Lake – the Goldminer’s IMO outplayed the Crunch for most of the game – very good team and the goalies were both outstanding. But this is Preseason so hard to ready into it too much…

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