Which is the NOJHL’s best team?

October 19, 2015

More than five weeks into the 2015-2016 season, six of the 12 teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League have records well above the .500 mark.

Points-wise, Soo Thunderbirds and Cochrane Crunch lead the parade followed by Powassan Voodoos, Elliot Lake Wildcats, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Timmins Rock.

The Thunderbirds have 24 points from a record of 12-1, Cochrane has 24 points from a record of 12-3, Powassan has 20 points from a perfect record of 10-0, Elliot Lake has 19 points from a record of 8-2-3, Kirkland Lake has 17 points from a record of 8-3-1 and Timmins has 17 points from a record of 8-4-1.

So, which is the best team at this stage of the season?

As the reigning NOJHL and Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada champions, the Thunderbirds are a robust blend of veteran and young talent and well put together by president-director of hockey operations Kevin Cain and general manager Jamie Henderson.

While the Thunderbirds do have high-scoring forwards of considerable experience including 1995 birth dates Matt Pinder, Brett Jeffries and Joey Miller and 1996 birth-year pivot Jaren Bellini, a collection of spry youngsters have also been making an impact of sorts thus far this season.

1998 birth-year forward Darian Pilon is second to Pinder in team scoring with 5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points. And Pilon’s twin brother, Drake, is producing as well with 5 goals, 4 assists, 9 points.

Two other first-year NOJHLers are also putting points on the board for the Thunderbirds as part of a deep roster.

Mark Tassone has 1 goal, 7 assists, 8 points and fellow forward Zachary Senecal has 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points.

Then there is Cochrane with its four-headed monster of forwards Hunter Atchison, Seamus Maguire, Dustin Cordeiro and Jeran Knorr, who represent the four leading scorers in the entire NOJHL.

Atchison has 14 goals, 27 assists, 41 points followed by Maguire at 15-21-36, Cordeiro at 19-11-30 and Knorr at 11-15-26. Atchison, Maguire and Knorr all hail from British Columbia and are an example of the great recruiting work done by Crunch owner-general manager-coach Ryan Leonard.

Powassan, to be sure, has been the early-season story with its perfect record and top ranking in the Canadian Jr. Hockey League poll. The Voodoos may not be as explosive as the Thunderbirds and Crunch but general manager Chris Dawson has done an exceptional job in assembling a top-to-bottom roster led by seasoned skaters Steve Harland and Tyler Peters.

As for Elliot Lake, the Wildcats have been waiting in the woods, so to speak, not overwhelming the opposition but having twice taken Powassan to overtime.

A tidy team that is expertly-managed by Todd Stencill and carefully-coached by Nathan Hewitt, the Wildcats take a back seat to no one among the NOJHL elite.

Kirkland Lake and Timmins are both in good position through the early going with the Rock working the trap of coach Paul Gagne to overcome what was a slow start to the season.

Which is the best team in the NOJHL right now?

To quote my friend Chris Dawson, who manages Powassan: “Championships are not handed out in October.”

PHOTO: Soo Thunderbirds rookie forward Mark Tassone has 8 points thus far this season. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)

What you think about “Which is the NOJHL’s best team?”

  1. I will not profess to be an expert in rankings, but looking in at the CJHL rankings this week I see that somehow Cochrane is still there in the top 20. A 12-3 record doesn’t spell out that 10 of their wins come against sub .500 teams. They have a 2-3 record against teams above the .500 mark. Early on I will have to say the T Birds look strong again, but there are many puzzles being worked on.

  2. HockEye I do somewhat agree with you, however Cochrane did give the T-birds their only loss of the season so far.
    Randy, perhaps we will have to wait till the 12th of December when the Voodoos visit the Soo to find the answer to your question.

  3. I’ve seen many games but not all teams. Have to say the T-Birds look the best so far. No stars but jut great team chemistry and solid puck possession. Coach deserves lots of credit. Elliot Lake are very close behind but seem to be missing a playmaker up front to feed McLean, and also coordinate their PP that was always so dangerous last year. Addition of Hepler will be helpful. Powassan shouldn’t be taken lightly. Offseason additions will complement Harland. Not sold on Cochrane. Don’t seem organized to my eyes for a championship contender. KL have taken a step backwards as well. Still say the Soo T-Birds are the team to beat, but have to admit the NOJHL has not disappointed at all this year!

  4. 1. Soo – what else is new?
    2. Cochrane – enjoy watching this team
    3. Powassan – management got it right


    Such an unbalanced league this year. I’m not a huge fan of all of these massive blowouts.

  5. Dirtiest team in the league is Rayside. but nothing happens cause the refs luv them and they are the fave of the League Ofice.

  6. My money is on an Elliot Lake vs Powassan final, probably 7 games, with the winner going on to represent the NOJ at the RBC Cup!! Lots of season left to enjoy though!

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