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East Division dominates NOJHL

TIMMINS - When it comes to offence, the East Conference has dominated the early part of the 2014-15 NOJHL season.

In fact, nine of the Top 10 spots in the league’s scoring race are held by players from the East.

Nicolas Tassone (7, 6-8-14, 2), of the Soo Thunderbirds, who is tied for fifth in scoring with Dustin Cordeiro (9, 12-2-14, 8), of the Cochrane Crunch, is the only non-East Conference player on the list.

Cordeiro’s Crunch teammate Cody Gratton (10, 12-9-21, 4), who is tied for top spot in goals (12) scored and leads the NOJHL with five short-handed goals, leads all scorers.

To say the Gongshow Gear Player of the Month is off to a fast start would be an understatement.

He is followed by Brady Clouthier (10, 9-9-18, 16), of the Abitibi Eskimos; Steven Babin (10, 5-12-17, 6), of Kirkland Lake Gold Miners; Josh Racek (10, 4-11-15, 8), of the Crunch; Cordeiro; Tassone; Brenden Locke (8, 9-4-13, 5), of the Eskimos; Ryan Swain (10, 6-7-13, 6), of the Gold Miners; Tristen Hazlett (9, 6-7-13, 2), of the Gold Miners; and Ryan Attwood (10, 4-9-13, 12).

Babin leads the NOJHL in assists, while Alex Hulford (12, 8-4-12, 6), of the Blind River Beavers is tops in power-play goals (5) and Swain and Jimmy Roy (10, 5-4-9, 12), of the Sudbury Nickel Barons are tied for the lead in game-winning goals (3).

The West Conference fairs much better when it comes to goaltending stats, however.

The Thunderbirds duo of Mario Culina (180:00, 1.67, .938) and Brian Kment (300:00, 2.20, .923) lead the NOJHL in goals against average and A.J. Smith (332:58, 2.34, .924), of the Elliot Lake Wildcats sits in fifth place.

Braddock Baalerud (271:08, 2.21, .938), of the Eskimos is third, while Timmins native Devon Debastos (318:17, 2.26, .910), of the Gold Miners, is fourth.

Culina and Baalerud are tied for top spot in saves percentage, while Debastos leads in shutouts (2) and Matt Young (300:00, 2.60, .937), of the Crunch, is tops in wins (4).

Joe Sheppard (405:50, 6.51, .859) has played more minutes than any other goalie in the NOJHL and he has also made the most saves in the league (268) — 63 more than Zach Mills (304:07, 8.48, .827) who sits in second spot.

Can the Gold Miners hold onto their claim top spot in Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings, or did a 1-2-0-0 road trip result in a fall from grace?

The Thunderbirds, who fell all the way from No. 2 to No. 6 last week climbed back up the rankings — all the way to No. 1 — even faster.

1. (6-2) Soo Thunderbirds (6-2-0-0) — The Thunderbirds ran off four-straight victories, including a 7-1 win over the Gold Miners on home ice and wins over a pair of division rivals — 2-1 against the Nickel Barons in Sudbury and 4-2 against the Wildcats on home ice. They also beat up on the Beavers on home. After and un-Thunderbird like 2-2-0-0 start, the Soo appears to be back on track. Culina and Kment have been sharp, while the offence has picked up, with forwards Tassone, Nicolas Sicoly (8, 6-4-10, 4), Nathan Hebert (8, 2-8-10, 0), Matt Pinder (8, 6-3-9, 2, Jaren Bellini (8, 3-6-9, 2) and defenceman Eric Hillock (7, 3-3-6, 2) leading the way. Transactions: None. The week ahead will see the Thunderbirds host the Beavers at the John Rhodes Community Centre on Wednesday night and the Eskimos on Friday night.

2. (4-1) Cochrane Crunch (8-2-0-0) — The Crunch scored a pair of convincing victories this week against weaker opponents — 7-2 over the Powassan Voodoos on home ice Friday night and 5-2 against the winless Blackhawks in Mattawa Saturday night. Most teams would be happy to have two lines that can put the puck in the net, but the Crunch attack features nine skaters capable of putting up big numbers — Gratton, Racek, Cordeiro, Jason Berube (10-5-6-11, 10),Aviv Milner (9,1-9-10, 4) defenceman Joseph Mavrin (10, 2-7-9, 8), Jacob Erwin (10, 4-4-8, 10), Ryan Gruszka (10, 3-3-6, 14) and Aaron Carmichael (6, 1-5-6, 2). In addition to the offensively talented Mavrin, the Cochrane blue-line features plenty of size and skill, including captain Max Glashauser (8, 0-6-6, 9), Dustin Deugau (9, 1-3-4, 8), Ned Simpson (7, 0-3-3, 20). The Crunch are also solid in net, with Young and Troy Paquette (306:56, 2.35, .926). Transactions: Braydon Stortz acquired from Carlton Place Canadians (CCHL). The Crunch will play a home-and-home series with the Gold Miners this week that could have a big impact on the standings and Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings. The squads will face off at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night and the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Saturday night.

3. (1-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (7-3-0-0) — The Gold Miners were only able to pick up two of a possible six points during this three-game road trip last week, resulting in their tumble down the rankings list. They looked like themselves in a 7-1 victory over the Beavers, but their offence and defence stumbled during a 6-2 loss to the Wildcats and 7-1 setback against the Thunderbirds. Like the Crunch, the Gold Miners have plenty of offensive weapons, including Babin, Hazlett, Swain, Jeremy Dumont (10, 3-10-13, 4), Luc Soares (9, 6-6-12, 12), Tyler Romain (10, 5-6-11, 11) defenceman Jeremy Picard-Fiset (10, 2-9-11, 8), Joel Fortin (9, 6-3-9, 2) defenceman Ethan Strong (10, 4-4-8, 8), defenceman Dylan Rosen (10, 4-3-7, 8) and Charles-Ettienne Bruneau-Crete (10, 3-2-5, 4). The statistics of Gold Miners goalies Debastos and Kenny Fitzgerald (281:43, 2.77, .875) look a little more human than they did prior to the road trip, but statistics aside they remain among the top goalies in the league. Transactions: None. The Gold Miners travel to Cochrane for their first game with the Crunch Friday night and then return home to host Cochrane at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Saturday night.

4. (2-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (6-2-0-0) — The Wildcats knocked off the Gold Miners 6-2 this week, before dropping a 4-2 decision to the Thunderbirds. Elliot Lake’s balanced attack features Cole Hepler (8, 6-6-12, 4), Shane Woolsey (8, 4-8-12, 4), Alec MacKenzie (8, 3-9-12, 6), Spencer MacLean (8, 5-6-11, 6), defenceman Nathan Campbell (8, 2-5-7, 14), Samuel Gagnon (8, 2-4-6, 4), defenceman David Chiarelli (8, 2-4-6, 6), Mick Tourangeau (7, 2-4-6, 10), Liam Blais (8, 4-1-5, 2), Adam Baxter (4, 2-3-5, 2) defenceman Jeff Wilson (8, 1-4-5, 4). Smith and Allan Menary (120:41, 2.49, .904) have teamed to give the Wildcats solid goaltending. Transactions: Brandon Janveau acquired from Fort Francis Lakers (SIJHL). The Wildcats will travel to Sudbury for a game with the Nickel Barons Wednesday night, host the Beavers at the Centennial Arena on Friday night and the Eskimos on Sunday night.

5. (5-4) Abitibi Eskimos (6-3-0-1) — The Eskimos ran their winning streak to three games by beating the Blackhawks 5-3 in Timmins Friday night and the Voodoos 4-3 at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night. Given that their next four games will be played on the road, those wins were important. The Eskimos have excelled in the offensive zone so far this season, with Clouthier, Locke, Attwood, defenceman Brennan Roy (10, 4-6-10, 14), Kevin Walker (10, 2-7-9, 15), Ryan Tront (3, 2-4-6, 2), Blake Cudmore (9, 0-6-6, 2), Kezmin Madden (10, 2-3-5, 0) leading the way. Perhaps even more important, the Eskimos have been solid in their own zone all season long, thanks to Roy, Ryan Kerr (10, 1-4-5, 12), Joshua DeJulio (10, 1-3-4, ), Nick Minerva (7, 2-1-3, 1), Jamey Lauzon (7,1-2-3, 14), Kealey Cummings (10, 0-2-2, 6) and Michael Rancourt (5, 1-0-1, 4). Goaltending, of course, is the last line of defence and Baalerud and Chet Tooker (335:46, 3.40, .905) have been steady in the Eskimos’ net. Transactions: Matt Wilson to Rockland Nationals (Jr. C); Scott Peng acquired from from Georgina Ice (Jr. C). The Eskimos three-game road trip will take them to Sault Ste. Marie Friday night, Blind River Saturday night and Elliot Lake Sunday night.

6. (3-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (7-2-0-1) — The Nickel Barons dropped a 2-1 decision to the Thunderbirds in their only game of the week. Dylan Callaghan’s power-play marker was Sudbury’s lone goal of the week. The Nickel Barons don’t play fire-wagon hockey, but their offensive output is usually higher than one goal. Defenceman Khadyn Butterfly (7, 5-5-10, 21), Jacob Bonin (9, 3-7-10, 2), Roy, defenceman Kyle Fransen (8, 2-6-8, 4) August Jarecki (9, 2-6-8, 8), Christopher Rossi (10, 2-6-8, 0), Callaghan (9, 3-2-5, 20) Joel Lemay (10, 2-2-4, 2), defenceman Ryan Mooney (10, 0-4-4, 8) and Danny Lepage (8, 3-0-3, 6) have been the keys on the attack. Kevin Labelle (300:41, 2.99, .926) and Jessie Morin (306:54, 3.13, .903) have combined to give the Nickel Barons decent goaltending. Transactions: None. The Nickel Barons will host the Wildcats at the McClelland Arena Wednesday night and then travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Saturday night.

7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (2-6-0-1) — The Voodoos lost both of there games this week, 7-2 to the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night and 4-3 to the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Saturday night. Despite their record, anyone who has seen the Voodoos play will note that they are playing much better hockey now than they were at the start of the season. Offence can still be a challenge from game to game, but Steve Harland (9, 3-7-10, 0), Nathaniel McLeod (8, 6-1-7, 10), Kyle Moore (7, 4-2-6, 4), Michael Silveri (7, 4-1-5, 9) captain Aaron Sullivan (9, 2-3-5, 6), a Timmins native, Tyler Gervais-Rolfe (9, 2-3-5, 6), Jeremy St. Pierre (8, 1-4-5, 11), Aaron Dart (9, 1-4-5, 6) and Brett Lepisto (9, 3-1-4, 11) just need a little more consistency. Jack Ondrovic (224:15, 3.75, .907) and Ben Auger (314:48, 4.38, .894) have given the Voodoos solid goaltending. Transactions: None. The Voodoos will host the Nickel Barons at the Powassan Sportsplex Saturday night and then travel to Mattawa for a game with the winless Blackhawks Sunday afternoon.

8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (0-10-0-0) — The Blackhawks search for their first win continues, after they dropped a 5-3 decision to the Eskimos Friday night and suffered a 5-2 setback on home ice Saturday night. The Blackhawks lack a dynamic offensive player and have had to rely upon scoring by committee, with Kyle Baril (7, 4-4-8, 11), Christian Sgroi (10, 2-5-7, 23), Colin Nicholson (10, 1-6-7, 10), Henry Yawit (10, 4-1-5, 0), Andy Williams (9, 3-2-5, 6), Tyler Broderson (10, 2-3-5, 6), Alex Dajia (10, 0-5-5, 10) and Josh Cameron (9, 2-1-3, 8) providing what little spark they have had so far. The stats for goalies Sheppard and Josh Horner (194:10, 8.03, .795) have not been pretty, but the duo has played better than the numbers would suggest. Transactions: None. The Blackhawks lone game this week will be on Sunday afternoon when they host the Voodoos at the Mike Rodden Arena.

9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-9-0-0) — Angry Beavers fans wondering why there team sits at No. 9 when the Blackhawks with one more loss are at No. 8 should take note of the goals for and against column. The Beavers have been outscored 75-15, while the Blackhawks have been outscored just 70-27. The Beavers are coming off a week when they lost 6-1 to the Thunderbirds and 7-2 to the Gold Miners, not too bad given the calibre of the teams they were playing. Scoring has been an issue for the Beavers all season, one of the reasons they acquired Hulford from the Blackhawks. Aside from Hulford, however, things have been pretty bleak, with Matt Neault (9, 3-2-5, 12), Nathan Johnson (7, 0-4-4, 0), Dallas Miller (7, 3-0-3, 31) and Chris Corgan (9, 2-1-3, 0) being the best of a mediocre lot. Goalies Mills and Nick Kazmierczak (235:53, 8.14, .796) have not received a lot of support so far this season. Transactions: Jake Schultz acquired from the Whitby Fury (OJHL). The Beavers search for their first victory will take them to Sault Ste. Marie for a game with the Thunderbirds Wednesday night, to Elliot Lake for a game with the Wildcats Friday night, before they return home to host the Eskimos at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night.