Vikings assemble for battle

June 1, 2024

Jef Jarmovitch has had time on his side as he prepares for his second season as the owner and president of the Elliot Lake Vikings of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

A year ago at the time, Jarmovitch was still more than a month away from taking over operation of the rag tag Elliot Lake Red Wings from previous owner Paul Noad and inheriting Chis Keleher as the head coach and general manager. One of the first orders of business for Jarmovitch when he purchased the Red Wings was to change the moniker to the Vikings, which was the original name of Elliot Lake’s first junior hockey franchise from way back in 1965.

At any rate, the 2023-2024 season began with a bang for the newly named Vikings as they stunned the reigning champion Timmins Rock 6-5 before close to 500 fans in their home opener. But the hoopla was short lived.

Jef Jarmovitch

Shortly after the Vikings home opener, Centennial Arena in Elliot Lake was suddenly and unexpectedly closed due to structural concerns. The 56-year old facility would remain closed for the rest of season. Thus, the Vikings became nomads and had to commute more than 90 minutes round trip to nearby Massey for practices and home games for the remainder of what would be a very trying season.

To be sure, it would go from bad to worse for the Vikings. In mid February, with the Vikings in last place in the NOJHL with a record of 5-33-5, Keleher was fired as coach and GM and Jon Campbell was brought in as interim coach for the remainder of the season. But the Vikings would lose all 15 games with Campbell behind the bench to finish with a league worst record of 5-48-5.

Jarmovitch would then advertise for a new head coach and GM ahead for the 2024-2025 season and Mike Nesbitt was subsequently hired away from the Vancouver Island Jr. Hockey League after three straight winning seasons with the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.

And Jarmovitch told Hockey News North that he and Nesbitt are on the same page.

John Buchanan

“Mike and I share the same vision of getting the Elliot Lake franchise back on track,” relayed Jarmovitch, who also hired John Buchanan as the Vikings assistant general manager during this off season.

“I reached out to John late in the season asking if he would be interested in making a return to Elliot Lake,” said Jarmovitch. “John was instrumental in recruiting most of the players to the Red Wings camp a few years back only to be relieved of his duties (by aforementioned former owner Paul Noad) a month later. John told me he had unfinished business in town and would do what he could to help recruit talent to Elliot Lake for this upcoming season. John has been to a few spring tournaments so far and is already a very valuable asset to the Vikings.”

The Vikings also have a troika of scouts helping out the team.

Michael Gagnon

Based in Sault Ste. Marie, Michael Gagnon is the Vikings northern Ontario scout in charge of keeping Jarmovitch in the loop on prospects from the Sault and area. John Giancatti, who once played in Elliot Lake, is the Vikings scout for the Quebec area while Brent Cooper is not only in charge of the Central Ontario region but serves as the assistant to Jarmovitch in his role as president of the Vikings.

“Brent was a member of the Elliot Lake Vikings board of directors when I was a goalie for the Vikings back in the late 1990s,” Jarmovitch noted, of his long association with Cooper.

“Brent, with his experience, has since helped me out with a few bumps in the road, lending his advice numerous times,” Jarmovitch said of Cooper. “He is also working on  setting us up with connections in his area with Junior C teams.  Brent has been an assistant GM with a few Junior A teams as well as a scout for many teams.”

Jarmovitch said the ’24-25 edition of the Vikings “will be a major makeover from last season. There will be a mix of five, possibly six returning players along with a handful of  Western Canada kids, two or three American players and some others from the Greater Toronto Area.

“The goal is to ice a competitive team that will compete for a playoff spot this coming season,” summed up Jarmovitch. “We are all on the same page with not being interested in a rebuild.”

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