Teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League are no longer restricted to recruiting the vast majority of their players from various regions of the province. Rather, there are no limitations on teams that can now go across Canada and into the United States to put together their rosters. But the Elliot Lake Vikings are just one NOJHL team — Sudbury Cubs and Soo Thunderbirds are two others — that purposely focus on scouting and recruiting talent from northern Ontario towns.
It all starts with local resident Jef Jarmovitch, who took over operation of the former Elliot Lake Red Wings during the past off season. Jarmovitch immediately rebranded the NOJHL franchise as the Elliot Lake Vikings. (Notably, junior hockey made its debut in Elliot Lake in 1965 and from then until 1997, the team was known as the Vikings.)
At any rate, with Jarmovitch at the helm as the new operator — and with the final year of the contract of head coach and general manager Chris Keleher inherited from the previous regime — the renamed Vikings have certainly put an emphasis on providing a place for players from Northern Ontario to play. In total, no less than 11 players on the Vikings current roster are from various Northern Ontario cities and towns.
The list of northern lads on the Vikings roster includes goalies Cameron Boville and Sam Keene, defencemen Sam Verbonac, Matthew Kallo, Tyler Thompson, Carter Carriere and Braeden Vis and forwards Anthony Bertrand, Noah Aboflan, Connor Desbois and Liam Bridgeman.
Boville and Verbonac are both from Sault Ste. Marie, Keene is from the Thunder Bay area, Kallo is from Espanola, Thompson, Carriere, Vis and Bertrand are all from in and around Sudbury while Aboflan and Desbois are both homegrown Elliot Lake products and Bridgeman is from the Manitoulin Island town of Mindemoya.
Kallo is the most recent addition to the Vikings, having been acquired in a trade with the Blind River Beavers. Now in his second full season in the NOJHL, Kallo previously played for the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League as a teammate of both of the above mentioned Verbonac and Aboflan.
Of note, Boville recently won his first game for the Vikings as a rookie NOJHL goalie. The Sault Ste. Marie product, who is currently part of a three goalie rotation in Elliot Lake, has impressive numbers through three stars in the Vikings net. The 6-foot-1, 190 pound Boville, who just recently turned 17 years of age, has a tidy .902 save percentage and 4.04 save percentage to go with a record of 1-2-0.
As for 18-year old Aboflan, the former U18 Jr. Greyhounds star has been a standout for his hometown Vikings through the first 10 games of the season. A power forward at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Abolfan’s totals through the first 10 games of this season include eight goals, four assists, 12 points.
Aboflan was of particular strength during a recent NOJHL Showcase Tournament game against the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in which he almost single-handedly sparked an impressive comeback by scoring three straight goals to lead the Vikings to a 5-2 victory.
Both Boville and Aboflan have enough of an upside that both participated at last month’s Ontario Hockey League training camp of the Soo Greyhounds as free agent invitees.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Jef Jarmovitch as the owner, president and assistant coach of the Vikings, is quite aware of the talent pool of players in the Sault Ste. Marie area. To that end, the Jarmovitch made it a point of priority to hire a scout who is based in Sault Ste. Marie to assess and potentially recruit players from the Sault for the Vikings.
No stranger to minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie as an AAA and AA level coach of many years, 41-year old Michael Gagnon said he is naturally excited to be at work for the Vikings as their area scout.
“I am excited for this new opportunity,” the affable Gagnon relayed to Hockey News North. “I am looking forward to helping recruit players to Elliot Lake, being a fan, watching games and promoting kids from here in the Sault as this season goes on.”
Gagnon grew up around the game as the son of Don Gagnon, who played in the Ontario Hockey League with the Soo Greyhounds and the Lake Superior State Lakers of the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association and at the minor pro level before going on to coach minor and junior hockey for close to 40 years. ‘Donny Gags’, as he was affectionately known, also scouted for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. He passed away in 2021.
“When my dad was a scout for the Saginaw Spirit, I used to go to games with him and watch how he scouted players and rated them,” the younger Gagnon recalled. “As a coach I alway preach to the kids no matter where you are playing if it is AAA or AA hockey, if you want to further your hockey career, there are plenty of options out there for you to continue to play the game you love. Just because you don’t make AAA and play AAA elite hockey, you can still further your career in the game.”
Father and son had a very close relationship and coached teams together in both the Sault Major Hockey Association and Soo Pee Wee Hockey League. And Michael learned a lot from Don as the two bonded through the game of hockey over so many years.
To be sure, it is a message that Gagnon is now delivering to AAA and AA level players from the Sault that he hopes to recruit to at some point play in the NOJHL with the Vikings of Elliot Lake.
“I have witnessed it myself with the many players I have coached and some have gone on to playing in the OHL, the NOJHL and college hockey. That is, to never give up on your dreams and if you want it, work hard at it, and it will pay off,” summed up young Gagnon, who as a player, once skated in the NOJHL for Blind River as a hard working forward.
As for Jarmovitch as the man at the top of the Vikings franchise, he noted that having players from northern Ontario will always be a most important consideration for the NOJHL team as long as he is in charge.
Through its first 10 games of the 2023-2024 NOJHL regular season, Elliot Lake has a record of 2-6-2 and is in last place among the six teams of the West Division. But players and parents alike have pointed out that Jarmovitch as the owner of the Vikings has created an extremely positive atmosphere in spite of the structural issues at Centennial Arena in Elliot Lake that have forced the team to practice in nearby Massey and play its home games in Blind River.
Centennial Arena remains closed to the public until further notice.