There have been bumps and bruises on what has been a winding road of new adventure for the Elliot Lake Red Wings of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
Still, the Red Wings have shown resolve and with modest improvement over 10 games before the current break in the NOJHL regular season schedule, Elliot Lake has eked its way to within striking distance of the fifth and final playoff spot in the six-team West Division.
Through 30 games, Elliot Lake has 15 points from a record of 7-22-1. And the Red Wings, who are 3-6-1 over their past 10 games, are three points behind the fifth place Espanola Express. Espanola, which has 18 points from a record of 8-15-2, does have five games in hand on Elliot Lake.
A new NOJHL franchise and the latest one to call Elliot Lake home — the Wildcats went dormant following a disastrous 2019-2020 season — the Red Wings have experienced their share of growing pains in this their debut campaign of 2021-2022.
There have been coaching and player personnel department moves and changes as Red Wings founder and managing director Paul Noad has not hesitated to admit mistakes and/or try to right what has not worked out for the first-year franchise.
Now, with young Tanner Bowditch at the helm as head coach and Mark Savery overseeing hockey operations as general manager, Noad told Hockey News North that he likes “where we are at in terms of coaching and management.
“Our goal and bench mark to start the season was to make the playoffs and as we are chasing good teams, including Espanola, we feel we have a valid shot,” Noad added. “We are finally healthy and our general manager is in pursuit of completing our roster.
“I am proud of our team for what we have accomplished so far as a first year franchise … and we feel there is more to come,” Noad said evenly.”
Gradually as the season has progressed, the Red Wings have become more balanced on their forward lines while shoring up the defence corps and improving the goaltending with the addition of 18-year old Cameron Smith from the Stouffville Spirit of the Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
The lanky, 6-foot-4 Smith has a .909 save percentage to go with a 3.90 goals against average and 3-6-1 record since arriving in Elliot Lake in early November.
On the points chart, the Red Wings have several notable skaters.
20-year old Jovani Moses leads the Elliot Lake scoring parade with nine goals, 12 assists, 21 points. Then there is 18-year old Matthew Shulist with 10 goals, nine assists, 19 points in just 21 games and 17-year old Brodie Kearns with 10-8-18 totals.
Other major contributors have included 18-year old forward — and local Elliot Lake product — Alex Antoine with eight goals, 10 assists, 18 points, 19-year old defenseman Ethan Mercer with one goal, 15 assists, 16 points in 24 games, 20-year old forward Dayton Clarke with 12-3-15 totals in 20 contests and 19-year old front-liner Josh Tomasi with 5-10-15 stats in just 16 outings.
Meanwhile, an appreciative Noad, as the Red Wings operator, added that “I would like to thank all of our fans, supporters and sponsors for their assistance and their patience with us as a first-year team. We truly appreciate each and every one of them.”