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Elliot Lake joins NOJHL

The Elliot Lake Bobcats hockey team is moving from the Greater Metro Hockey League to the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) next season. In addition, they will be unveiling a new logo.   The announcements were made at an information session on April 11. The event was well attended with 70 season-ticket holders.   Bobcats owner and coach Ryan Leonard is “excited” about the change and the “higher calibre of hockey in the NOJHL. The pretty passing will disappear. It’s a more physical and tough Canadian style of hockey.”   The NOJHL now consists of seven teams in Northern Ontario and one in Northern Michigan. With the addition of the Bobcats, the other teams are the: Blind River Beavers, Abitibi Eskimos, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Sudbury Cubs, Soo Thunderbirds (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) and North Bay Trappers. The Soo Eagles are the American team and play out of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.   The league is a part of Hockey Canada and has some different team requirements. For starters team roster will change. There is no current allowance for European players and each team is only allowed eight “import” players. The league defines imports as players from outside Ontario. These may be from anywhere in Canada or the United States. The officiating staff will also change as there will now be four on the ice, two linesmen and two referees.   The league also has some great programs including a strict substance-abuse policy that can see players get a two-year ban on multiple offenses and a concussion screening system.   The league has a tie in with the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and also serves as a feeder league with players possibly moving up and down to OHL rosters.   The NOJHL has spawned some NHL stars including former Maple Leaf Steve Sullivan.   The Bobcats will also have access to AAA midget teams should they need more bodies due to injury. All in all the player pool has increased dramatically.   “We can now also work Minor Hockey,” Leonard stated.   He commented that being part of a rogue league not recognized by Hockey Canada limited his involvement with the youngsters.   Adding “minor hockey is growing and there is a midget rep team starting.   “These are the local boys we will be looking at in a couple of years.”   The Bobcats will have more games on their schedule playing 50 games, 25 of which will be at home. Games will still be on Friday nights with Wednesdays as alternate dates, and the season will extend into March.   Although they will get more ice time, their travel time will be greatly reduced. Five of their new competitors are within a three-hour drive and they only have to head to Kirkland Lake and Iroquois Falls three times each.   “Our travel budget will be greatly reduced,” Leonard said.   The Bobcats have spent the last five years in the Greater Metro Hockey League (GMHL).   Leonard said “the GMHL helped the team develop.”   He added “I’ve always been a strong advocate for the league, but not having a tie into Hockey Canada hurt the program. I never got calls from the OHL, but since the announcement I’m getting calls from teams looking for placements for 16-year-olds who want to get junior ‘A’ experience.   “Joining the NOJHL has offered some great opportunities. I want to grow in my career and this is a step up.”   Leonard was adamant that the team would not be leaving Elliot Lake. Although he said he did have some challenges with the city including the lack of subsidized ice, which made it costly to stay here.   “We pay full price for ice time.”   He added that the Bobcats did not generate any revenue on concessions, 50/50 or chuck-a-puck.   He also said that their operating cost for last season was in the neighbourhood of $200,000.   Last year, fan attendance was good averaging 370 per night.   However, the team did experience some losses with fans quoting the lack of competitive hockey as their reason for staying away.   “People were tired of seeing blowouts.”   With an increase in the number of local teams, rivalries are bound to develop, which is good for all teams involved.   The Blind River Beavers are slated to be their biggest rivals and fans from both communities are expected to spend time in each others barns. The teams are also working together to increase the fan experience.   The Bobcats will have a 25-man roster. They have already secured 10 players including South Muskoka Shield’s 20-year-old standout goaltender Tanner Swift who fans will certainly remember from this year’s playoff series. There might also be some returning Cats.   The Bobcats will be holding a training camp May 25 and will be looking for some solid character players. Leonard added that having 10 players already signed puts him ahead of other teams.   There has been a slight increase to season ticket prices to reflect the greater number of games. Season passes are now $165 for adults and seniors with the children’s passes going to $125. For tickets purchased before May 5, the prices will include all playoff games.   Leonard boasted that they are still the cheapest passes in the league and wanted to ensure that the price of games was affordable.   There will also be a new promotion in place. The last game of the season will be a ticket redemption night that will allow season ticket holders to redeem unused game tickets to bring in family and friends. Those interested can buy their passes at Hungry Jacks in the Algo Centre Mall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays or at the Elliot Lake Trade Show.   The Bobcats also unveiled an exciting new logo. This new logo will be featured on new jerseys as well as new merchandise that will be available at all home games.   They will also have official programs with player profiles and pocket schedules available.   With the higher level of talent in the NOJHL will they be able to compete? The coach said he was not expecting to be tops right away, but he is confident that they will be a solid team and will “win our share of games.”   Leonard added that he “is more excited than when he came here five years ago. The whole thing has gotten great community response so far. This is a move in the right direction. You will see a good club here.”   http://www.elliotlakebobcats.net/