Return of the EL Vikings

July 20, 2023

The once vaunted Vikings are back to reclaim their age old junior hockey status in Elliot Lake. Long-time local resident Jef Jarmovitch has taken over operation of the Elliot Lake Red Wings from Paul Noad and rebranded the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League franchise as the Elliot Lake Vikings.

Junior hockey has had a presence in Elliot Lake since 1965. It began with the Vikings, who first played in the old International Jr. B Hockey League, then the NOJHL. And since 1997, when the Vikings went off to sea, there have been the Elliot Lake Ice, Elliot Lake Bobcats, Elliot Lake Wildcats and Elliot Lake Red Wings of the NOJHL. (The Bobcats were also part of the Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League.)

But now, thanks to Jarmovitch, the Vikings are back in Elliot Lake and will return to their vintage green and gold colours of the old days effective the 2023-2024 season.

Jarmovitch, who was an assistant coach with the Elliot Lake team the past two seasons and who works as a medical laboratory technologist at St. Joseph’s General Hospital in the Highway 108 town of about 10,000 residents, told Hockey News North that he first began talks with the aforementioned Paul Noad in April of this year about purchasing the Red Wings.

The transfer in operation from Noad to Jarmovitch was just recently approved by the NOJHL Board of Governors. And Jarmovitch’s first order of business was to change the name of the Elliot Lake franchise from Red Wings to Vikings.

Jarmovitch, to be sure, has a passion for Elliot Lake, junior hockey, and the Vikings moniker.

“In 1980, when I was four years old, my family moved to Elliot Lake when my father got a job with Rio Algom Mines … and I have been here ever since,” Jarmovitch began. “I remember as a kid going to all the Elliot Lake Vikings home games in the 1980s and early 1990s … and from 1994 to 1996 I was a goalie for the hometown Vikings.”

Jef Jarmovitch

Jarmovitch noted that, “it has been a dream of mine for the last few years to one day purchase the team and rebrand it to the Elliot Lake Vikings. And when the chance came up, I jumped at the opportunity.”

He added that the initial support to his takeover has been substantial.

“The amount of support via texts, phone calls and e-mails has been very positive,” Jarmovitch relayed. “I have received messages from past teammates and ex players dating back to the earliest days. There are many ex Vikings players who still reside in Elliot Lake and in speaking with them they said they are really excited for the new change. When you think about junior hockey in Elliot Lake, the name Vikings always comes to mind.”

Jarmovitch said that, in addition to owning the team, he plans to continue to be an assistant coach with the Vikings — and confirmed that Chris Keleher will return to Elliot Lake for a second season as head coach and general manager.

“I have been the assistant coach the last few years here in Elliot Lake and I still plan to be behind the bench for the upcoming season. The hockey part is not new to me but the business side definitely is new. But I have good people who have come along on board to help me with the transition.

“In return for the support I have already received from the community, I have committed to supporting locally. My jerseys, socks, bags, tickets, programs and merchandise will all be purchased locally,” he added.

“I am looking forward to the upcoming season as the newly rebranded Elliot Lake Vikings. The Vikings have deep roots to the community of Elliot Lake (dating back to the 1960s.) My commitment is to rebuild a program that will entice players to consider Elliot Lake as a top destination to play their Junior A hockey,” Jarmovitch summed up.

In many instances, Elliot Lake had 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.

As for the Red Wings, they operated in Elliot Lake for two so-so years following the folding of the Wildcats. The Red Wings posted a record of 17-29-2 in 2021-2022 and were 20-35-3 in 2022-2023.

Meantime, as the Red Wings transition to the Vikings, the team stands to return two pretty good local players from the ’22-23 team in forwards Alex Antoine and Noah Aboflan. Antoine, who has a 2003 birth date, has played the past two seasons for his hometown team and produced 32 goals, 29 assists, 61 points. Aboflan, who was born in 2005, netted eight goals, eight assists, 16 points as an NOJHL rookie in ’22-23.

And among the newcomers to the Vikings for the ’23-24 season are two players with Northern Ontario roots.

Defenseman Sam Verbonac is poised to play for the Vikings following a trade with the Huntsville Otters of the Provincial Jr. C Hockey League earlier this summer. Verbonac, who has a 2005 birth date, is a Sault Ste. Marie product who, prior to heading to Huntsville, was a steady defender for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League. He also has six games of prior NOJHL experience with the Espanola Paper Kings.

And 2007 birth year defenseman Carter Carriere signed with Elliot Lake earlier this summer. Carriere played the ’22-23 season with the Sudbury Under 16 Nickel Capitals of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League and in 31 games, playoffs included, he netted six goals, 10 assists, 16 points.

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