Here and there at about the midway point of the 2022-2023 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular season.
BEWARE THE BIRDS: They had a ho hum start to this season. But the reigning champion Soo Thunderbirds reeled off seven straight wins before the holiday break. With a record of 21-9-3, the surging Thunderbirds are within a point of the second place Blind River Beavers in the West Division of the NOJHL. General manager Jamie Henderson has helped to piece together a Thunderbirds team that has once again become a force to reckon with in the NOJHL.
JARRETT AND REBEK: Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett and one of his assistants, Jeremy Rebek, have similar high performance backgrounds. Both are Sault Ste. Marie products, both are former star defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League and both went on to lengthy and standout careers in high level European professional leagues. Few teams in the NOJHL are as well prepared as the Thunderbirds and the 39-year old Jarrett and the 46-year old Rebek are as good as its gets as coaches who are detailed and who are able to quickly adapt to the opposition during the course of a game.
GOALIE BROTHERS: Not only do 19-year old Gavin Disano and 16-year old Charlie Burns form a dandy goaltending duo for Blind River but they are step brothers. Both have impressive numbers for the Beavers thus far. The veteran Disano has a 10-5-1 record with a 2.43 goals against average and .915 save percentage. And the rookie Burns has been a tad better with an 11-3-3 record, 2.00 goals against average, .922 save percentage and four shutouts. Both Disano and Burns are graduates of the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League.
FATHER AND SON: Soo Eagles now have a father and son combination with the recent hiring of former OHL and National Hockey League journeyman left winger Ken Belanger as an assistant coach. Ken’s son, Kenny Belanger, is one of the leading scorers on the Eagles with 13 goals, nine assists, 22 points in 31 games. The 18-year old Belanger, who played for his hometown Soo Thunderbirds as a rookie in 2021-2022, is one of the most improved players in the NOJHL this season as a lanky forward who plays in all crucial situations and in all ends of the rink.
FOURTH PLACE RACE: There is a frantic race for the fourth playoff spot in the West Division taking place between the Espanola Paper Kings and Soo Eagles. With a record of 16-12-4, the Paper Kings lead the 16-13-2 Eagles by two points with the Michigan Soo holding a game in hand. Led by goalie Jake Marois, defenseman Josh Rumolo and forward Lucas Signoretti, this season has already been a big turnaround for Espanola, which won just 13 games in 2021-2022. Signoretti, formerly of the Erie Otters of the OHL, has been a scoring sensation for the Paper Kings. The small but speedy 18-year old Signoretti has played in only 17 of Espanola’s 32 games but nonetheless leads the Paper Kings in scoring with 14 goals, 17 assists, 31 points.
RED LAKE REFUGEES: This certainly must rank as a first in modern day junior A hockey history. That is, no less than five players from the 2021-2022 Superior International Jr. Hockey League champion Red Lake Miners are teammates again with the NOJHL’s Timmins Rock. The five 20-year old refugees from Red Lake are forwards Brady Harroun, Ethan Pool and Lucas Piekarczyk and defensemen Kenyon Nyman and Brandon Rossetti. They were acquired via four separate trades engineered by Timmins general manager and coach Brandon Perry. All have paid dividends for the Rock. Harroun is tied for the most goals in the NOJHL with 25, Nyman is the league’s top scoring defenseman with 10 goals, 30 assists, 40 points and Piekarczyk is a point per game player with 16 goals and 18 assists. Pool, meanwhile, has served as a shutdown forward for the Rock and has three goals, seven assists, 10 points while missing 11 games on the injured list. And Rossetti, the most recent acquisition by Timmins from the Red Lake title team, has three goals, eight assists, 11 points in 13 games for the Rock.
SIZZLING SOBUSH: Sudbury Cubs forward Pierson Sobush has been on a scoring spree over the past month or so. The 18-year old forward has scored 14 goals in the Cubs last 12 games. Sobush now has 25 goals on the season and is tied for the league lead in that department with Brady Harroun of Timmins.
FROM THE POINT: Two NOJHL defensemen are averaging a point per game or better. Kenyon Nyman of Timmins has 10 goals, 30 assists, 40 points and Kyloe Ellis of Sudbury has 7-27-34 totals. Both players are starring for teams that are in first place in their respective divisions. Timmins leads the West end with 55 points from a record of 25-5-5 while Sudbury is on top of the East side with 56 points via record of 27-5-2.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: As far as starting goalies go, 19-year old Patrick Boivin of Timmins has the best overall numbers in the league with a 16-4-2 record, 1.91 goals against average, .924 save percentage and three shutouts. Boivin’s backup, 16-year old rookie Jacob Brown, has also been a standout with a 9-1-3 record, 1.75 goals against average, .922 save percentage and four shutouts. Brown was a fourth round pick by the Flint Firebirds at the 2022 OHL priority selections draft.
LIFE OF RILEY: Standout forward Riley Klugerman has committed to attend Concordia University-Wisconsin and play for the Falcons’ Division 3, National Collegiate Athletic Association program effective the 2023-2024 season. Currently sitting fourth in NOJHL scoring, the 20-year old Klugerman has 43 points on 19 goals and 24 assists in 35 games with Hearst thus far this season. He has already surpassed personal single season bests in goals and total points. Now in his second season with the Lumberjacks, Klugerman has played at a point per game pace with 78 in 79 outings, including 31 goals. As for the Concordia school that Klugerman is headed to, the Falcons play within the 10 member Northern Collegiate Hockey Association. Other NOJHL alumni currently on the Concordia roster include goalie Gabe Rosek (Soo Eagles) and forward Andrew Malek (Soo Thunderbirds and Blind River Beavers.)