There is a tidy total of teams from the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Superior International Jr. Hockey League that have stood tall through the first few months of the 2021-2022 season.
Following is a Hockey News North top 10 list of seven teams from the NOJHL and three from the SIJHL. The NOJHL is made up of 12 teams and the SIJHL has seven member squads.
• TIMMINS ROCK. Perhaps the best all around defensive team in the NOJHL, intense rookie coach Brandon Perry and the Rock specialize in limiting the number of shots on goal by the opposition. A component of that style means the Timmins goalies have to really focus on staying sharp throughout the game, given the low number of shots that they usually face. Among much of what there is to like about the Rock is the high performance play of two 20-year old local products — forward Riley Brousseau and Cameron Dutkiewicz. Former teammates with the Timmins Majors of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League from a few years back, Brousseau and Dutkiewicz are thus far showing that they are determined to end their junior hockey careers with winning ways on the Rock. Other high end performers for the Rock thus far include forward Tyler Schwindt, defenseman Bode Dunford and no. 1 goalie Gavin McCarthy.
• POWASSAN VOODOOS. Marc Lafleur likes to down play the effect that he has had in his first season as the head coach in Powassan. Fiery, firm and focused all in one, Lafleur is without peer as a junior A coach in Ontario. He has coached two other NOJHL teams — Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Hearst Lumberjacks — and led them both to league championships. Meanwhile, not to be overlooked in yet another contending season in Powassan is the job that under-rated, veteran general manager Chris Dawson continues to do. The fact that Dawson went out and got 20-year old standout goalie Alex Bugeja from the Soo Thunderbirds when he became available during the summer months is just one example of how the veteran Powassan GM is in touch and on top of things.
• HEARST LUMBERJACKS. Well supported and closely followed by the frantic fans of the French speaking community of Hearst, homegrown coach Marc-Alain Begin has the Lumberjacks playing about as well as any team in what is a beast of an NOJHL East. Forwards Robbie Rutledge, Zachary Demers, Raphael Lajeunesse and Mathieu Comeau have all been lighting it up on the points chart. And the puck-stopping duo of Liam Oxner and Matteo Gennaro is as good as it gets on the East side as Hearst keeps humming along for a shot at East Division glory.
• SOO THUNDERBIRDS. Young and good. Really good, as a matter of fact. A pair of 2005 birth year skaters who are developing in the NOJHL after being picked at the 2021 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft have been top performers for the West Division leading Thunderbirds. Forward Cooper Foster, a second round draft pick of the Ottawa 67’s, and defenseman Andrew Gibson, a fourth round selection of the Soo Greyhounds, are scoring leaders for the Thunderbirds as 16-year old rookie sensations. Foster and Gibson are just two young shining stars on the Thunderbirds, with 2004 birth year forward Tyson Doucette and ’04 birth year defenseman Creo Solomon being a couple of other standouts.
• SOO EAGLES. Keeping pace in a race for first place in the wild West — and holding multiple games in hand on their foes — coach Doug Laprade and the Eagles boast a mini mite major goal scorer in Chase Tallaire, a plum defender in Trevor Davis and a top 1-2 goalie tandem in Ryan Gilmore and Gabe Rosek. Both net-minders have played rather well under the Eagle eyed watch of crusty old goalie coach Bill Vanderleest. This is an Eagles team that takes a back seat to no one in the NOJHL West and is led by long-time part owner and general manager Bruno Bragagnolo, who is as good a junior A hockey operator as there is in these parts.
• BLIND RIVER BEAVERS. How can one not be a fan of the small market Beavers? Superbly coached and managed by sixth year hockey boss Kyle Brick, the Beavers continue to be a splendid example of success against all odds. The most improved team on the West side since the start of the season, the Brick-led Beavers rarely give an inch and are led by forwards Caleb Minns and Jesse Dupuis and crackerjack defenseman Ethan Pegg. And as good of a coach that Brick is, he is also a highly regarded general manager.
• SUDBURY CUBS. The Cubs have been just above or at the .500 level for most of the season despite being deep in veteran and young talent. Still, this is a Sudbury team that was built for a championship run and features top forwards such as league scoring leader Kyler Campbell, Kingston Frontenacs OHL draft pick Cameron Walker, another local product in Pierson Sobush, Jaxon Bedard and 16-year old rookie gunslinger Billy (The Kid) Biedermann. It says here that Sudbury can be every bit as good as the two Soo teams.
• RED LAKE MINERS. Led by general manager and coach Geoff Walker, the nationally ranked and very high scoring Miners are in a frantic race for first place in the Superior loop. Red Lake boasts a host of impact forwards including local product Jordan Baranesky as well as the likes of Brady Harroun, Nic Bolin, Ryan Howe, Lucas Piekarczyk, Noah Kramps and Ryan Hunter. Quite clear, no doubt, the Miners can score. This has the makings of a big season for Red Lake, which will be the host team for next May’s 2022 Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada championship tournament.
• KAM RIVER FIGHTING WALLEYE. Well coached by Matt Valley, Kam River — which is in its first full season in the SIJHL — is as well balanced a team as there is in the league thanks to the recruiting and trade efforts of hard-working general manager Kevin McCallum. Alex Enegren leads the Fighting Walleye scoring parade alongside the likes of fellow forwards Ethan Lang, Trenton Morriseau, Jeremy Dunmore, Carson Gorst, Keaton Mercredi and Tyler Ralph and defensemen Zach Fortin and Jonah Desrosiers. Between the pipes, Austin Madge and Eric Vanska form a dandy duo.
• DRYDEN ICE DOGS. Hard boiled, no nonsense Kurt Walsten, who has been coaching in Dryden since 2014 and has led the Ice Dogs to two SIJHL championships and two league final appearances, has once again put together a big, strong, tough unit of forwards and defensemen. The Ice Dogs feature productive forwards such as Maxime Collette, Tristan Takats, Brady Frattinger, Cameron Ware, Derek Koivisto and Ondrej Bardos as well as defensemen Max Rath, Chase Muswagon and Jackson Jacques. Dryden is currently a middle of the pack club but look for shrewd operator Walsten, who is also the Ice Dogs general manager, to improve this team in a big way as the season goes on.