Junior hockey has had a presence in Elliot Lake since 1965, beginning with the old Jr. B Vikings.
And since 1997 there have been the Elliot Lake Ice, Elliot Lake Bobcats and Elliot Lake Wildcats of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. (The Bobcats were also part of the Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League.)
Now, after the Wildcats took a leave of absence from the NOJHL in 2020-2021, the franchise was recently rebranded as the Elliot Lake Red Wings with new operator, new general manager and new coaching staff in place ahead of the 2021-2022 season.
To be sure, the business and hockey operations department of the Red Wings is firm, not to mention flush with foremost experience led by administrative and entrepreneurial front man Paul Noad, head coach Brian Noad, general manager John Buchanan, vice president Mark Savery, assistant coach Adam Lamarre and mentor Raffi Torres.
Paul Noad and Brian Noad are brothers.
Notably, as players, the aforementioned Torres was a star winger in the Ontario Hockey League spanning three full seasons with the Brampton Battalion before going on to play in more than 700 National Hockey League games — while both Lamarre (Bowling Green University Falcons) and Paul Noad (Colorado College Tigers) skated for multiple years apiece at the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association level.
Meanwhile, Buchanan and Savery 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.
Thus, at first blush as it pertains to the NOJHL as a league and Elliot Lake as a program, the Red Wings certainly appear to be in trusted, capable hands months ahead of their forthcoming, debut season of 2021-2022.
No doubt, 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.
But in communicating with the Noad brothers as respective operator and coach, Buchanan as the GM and NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca, the impression is quite clear that this is a favourable, reliable group intent on righting what was, over the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons, not up to standards with the Elliot Lake franchise.
“We are going to do this right,” Buchanan relayed to Hockey News North.
“I have a lot of faith in Paul (Noad) and his group,” offered Mazzuca, as the NOJHL’s commander in chief. “We look forward to seeing the Red Wings in action in the months ahead.”
Elliot Lake has a successful past as a junior hockey franchise both on the ice and at the gate — during good times it was not uncommon for venerable Centennial Arena to be packed to the rafters on a Saturday night and fans listening in to the play by play broadcast on radio station CKNR.
Now, if the new group lives up to its own ambitions and intentions and if the Red Wings can at least be competitive in their first season, one might rightfully expect good attendance and lively rivalries with Elliot Lake’s established NOJHL West Division counterparts — Soo Eagles, Soo Thunderbirds, Blind River Beavers, Espanola Express and the Sudbury based Rayside Balfour Canadians.
The wild West awaits the Wings.
LOCAL LAD IN EL: As was first reported by Hockey News North, Elliot Lake has obtained the rights to homegrown defenseman Teegan Dumont from Blind River for future considerations.
Dumont, to be sure, has the potential to be a force to be reckoned with and looms as a local crowd favourite for fans in Elliot Lake.
A physical defenseman with a 2003 birth date, the 6-foot-2, 220 pound, right handed shooting Dumont suited up in 12 contests for Blind River during the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL campaign and scored a goal before a seven game suspension for instigating a fight ended his season.
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. In total, Dumont netted 17 goals, 20 assists, 37 points and racked up 142 penalty minutes in 50 regular season games.
Over the course of his two seasons in the Great North, Dumont also skated in eight NOJHL games with the Rayside Balfour Canadians as an affiliate player and netted a goal and an assist.
To be sure, this is a big defenseman who could become an impact player for his hometown Elliot Lake team and add fuel to a long-standing rivalry with the nearby NOJHL foes from Blind River.
BR V. EL: As noted, the rabid, often rowdy rivalry between the gritty, nearby junior hockey towns of Blind River and Elliot Lake is poised to be rekindled effective the 2021-2022 season.
Geographically, Blind River and Elliot Lake are separated by a mere 40 miles of rugged highway.
Without question, Blind River coach and general manager Kyle Brick is looking forward to the return of Elliot Lake to the NOJHL.
“We are excited to have our nearby division rival back in business … there is nothing better than Blind River vs. Elliot Lake on a Saturday night,” Brick told Hockey News North.
“I am happy for that organization to get back on their feet. It wasn’t the same without them. With that being said, I love nothing more than beating Elliot Lake and the same goes for our fans,” added the 35-year old Brick, who has been with the Beavers for five seasons and is the most successful coach in terms of winning percentage and playoff series triumphs in Blind River’s NOJHL history, one that began more than 20 years ago.
Elliot Lake, on the other hand, will be out to make a much-needed, fresh start as the newly-named Red Wings in 2021-2022 after sitting out the 2020-2021 season.
At any rate, when it is Blind River versus Elliot Lake on junior hockey’s frozen stage, look for a game on, tug of war between the adversarial foes.