IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos will welcome the Powassan Voodoos to the Jus Jordan Arena when they open the NOJHL regular season on Saturday, Sept. 6.
The Voodoos, a farm club of the OHL’s North Bay Battalion, are one of two new franchises in the league for the 2014-15 campaign.
With Ryan Leonard’s Elliot Lake Bobcats having moved to Cochrane to become the Crunch, the other expansion franchise — a community-owned entity — will be located in Elliot Lake and operated as the Bobcats.
The addition of those two franchises offsets the departure of the Espanola Rivermen, who are now part of the Canadian International Hockey League, and means that the NOJHL will operate with nine teams in two divisions for the 2014-15 season.
The East Division will include the Eskimos, the Crunch, the NOJHL-champion Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, the Voodoos and the Mattawa Blackhawks (formerly the North Bay Trappers).
The West Division will be made up of the Soo Thunderbirds, the Sudbury Nickel Barons, the Bobcats and the Blind River Beavers.
The Eskimos will play five games at home and five games on the road against the Crunch and Gold Miners, four games at home and four games on the road against the Voodoos and Blackhawks and two games at home and two games on the road against the four teams in the West Division.
“It is nice to have two rivals within easy driving distance,” said Scott Marshall, president of the Eskimos.
“All three teams (Eskimos, Crunch and Gold Miners) are hoping that fans will be going both ways to both games.
“Over all, we are pretty pleased with the schedule.
“In an ideal world, we would get 25 Saturday home games but that would mean we couldn’t go on the road.”
As it is, 18 of the Eskimos 26 home games are scheduled for Saturday nights at the Jus Jordan Arena.
Like last season, the Eskimos will play five of their home games — all on Friday nights — in Timmins, the first at the McIntyre Arena and the other four at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex.
“We have been at both arenas several times over the last few years and in looking at all the numbers and the facilities in general, we have decided to go back to the Sportsplex,” Marshall said.
“From a hockey standpoint, it’s a better rink. At the Mac, there is very little room in the neutral zone and the other issue, for us, is fans being able to see the game. At the Mac there are just too many obstructions.
“The Sportsplex holds fewer people, but the people who are in there are able to see the hockey game.”
The Sportsplex also offers more parking for fans attending home games.
“That was an issue too at the Mac, especially on a cold night, people don’t want to walk a half mile,” Marshall said.
“We had several complaints about that from people having to park a long way away from the rink.”
The remainder of the team’s regular-season games are spread out throughout the week.
“We have a couple of Sunday afternoon games, to try to accommodate teams travelling from the West,” Marshall said.
Like Marshall, Leonard, who is coach, general manager and owner of the Crunch, is pleased with his team’s schedule.
“The schedule for us worked out,” he said.
“We got what we wanted. We wanted to have more than half of our games on Fridays and we ended up getting 16 Friday night home games and four Saturday night games, so we have 20 of our 26 home games on the weekend, which is what we were really shooting for, because we have got our arena licence for alcohol in the seats and everywhere.
“It gives us a chance to make a nice night of entertainment for everybody and hopefully get more people out on the weekends.”
The Crunch will play also play five games at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Thursdays and one on a Tuesday.
The Crunch — who will hold their training camp Aug. 9-11 — will play their home opener on Thursday, Sept. 4, when the host the Blackhawks and the following night will welcome the Voodoos to the Tim Horton Event Centre.
Like the Eskimos, the Crunch will play two exhibition games on home ice, both against the Blackhawks, on Friday, Aug. 22, and Saturday, Aug. 23.
The first regular-season meeting of the Crunch and Eskimos will take place on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Jus Jordan Arena.
The Eskimos will pay their first visit to the Tim Horton Event Centre on Friday, Oct. 17.
With an uneven number of teams in the two divisions, the playoffs will open with the fourth- and fifth-place squads in the East meeting in a best-of-three series and then the winner of that series taking on the first-place finisher in the East and the second-place finisher meeting the third-place finisher.
The first-place team in the West will host the fourth-place team, while the third-place squad visits the second-place squad.
Once division winners are determined, they will meet for the NOJHL championship.
All series after the initial round will be best-of-seven.
Prior to the start of the regular-season, the Eskimos will play four exhibition games against the Gold Miners — at the Jus Jordan Arena on Saturday, Aug. 23, and Wednesday, Aug. 27, and at the Joe Mavrinac Community-Complex on Friday, Aug. 22, and Thursday, Aug. 28.
The Eskimos are schedule to hold tryouts at the Whitney Arena from Aug. 5-8, with the team’s main camp then reverting to the Jus Jordan Arena.
The NOJHL schedule was finalized and approved during the league’s annual meetings held in Sault Ste. Marie June 20-22.
There will be no major changes in terms of rules for the 2014-15 campaign, but the NOJHL has applied to use no-change icing, which would ban a team that ices the puck from changing players on the ice during the ensuing stoppage of play.