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GALLERY: Tight race for MVP

 

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TIMMINS - A lot of hockey remains to be played until the final curtain falls on the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League regular season.

The Abitibi Eskimos, for example, have 14 games left to play prior to this weekend’s three-game road trip — seven on the road and seven at home (including one at the McIntyre Arena).

So it might be a little early to begin discussing which player deserves to be named the MVP of the NOJHL, but Jeff Mackie, one of the broadcasters of Kirkland Lake Gold Miners games, got me thinking about the subject on the weekend when he Tweeted: “Is there a better player in the #NOJHL right now than Samuel Wilbur of @KLGoldMiners? I’m not sure there is.”

I quickly replied: “@jeffmackie Erik Robichaud of the Eskimos, hands down!”

To which Jeff responded: “@ThomasP94790160 Yes he’s a beaut for sure.”

Robichaud has put up some amazing statistics so far this season, especially when you consider that he has played in just 22 games because of the time he has spent with Ontario Hockey League teams.

In those 22 games, he has scored 22 goals and chipped in with 16 assists, good for 38 points (an average of 1.73 points per game).

Wilbur, on the other hand, has played in 42 games, while scoring 24 goals and adding 38 assists, good for 62 points (an average of 1.48 points per game).

It should be noted, however, that neither Robichaud, or Wilbur lead their own teams in scoring, much less the NOJHL.

The Eskimos leading scorer is Brady Clouthier, who plays on a line with Robichaud and the truculent Ryan Tront.

In 42 games, Clouthier has scored 27 goals and added 34 assists, good for 61 points (1.45 points per game).

And the Gold Miners leading scorer is Steven Babin, who has recorded 21 goals and 44 assists in his 42 games played this season (1.55 points per game).

OK, lets branch out our search for the MVP to include the other six NOJHL teams.

Moving from the top of the standings to the basement, we start off with the Soo Thunderbirds.

Given their record, it is reasonable to suggest that the league MVP might be wearing a Thunderbirds jersey.

Up front, the prime candidate has to be Darcy Haines, picked up midway through the season by the Soo from the Pembroke Lumber Kings, of the CCHL.

In just 20 games, Haines has 13 goals and 27 assists, good for 40 points (2.00 points per game).

Not bad for the runner up in the NOJHL scoring race from the 2012-13 season when he played for the Sudbury Nickel Barons.

The Thunderbirds also have Gavin Burbach who has scored 34 goals and added 32 assists, good for 66 points) in 43 games (1.53 points per game).

Over in Espanola we find the trio of Brenden Dubchak (39, 29-36-65, 1.67 points per game), Corbin Bean (38, 25-35-60, 1.58 points per game) and Brandon Janke (39, 24-30-54, 1.38 points per game) who are all worthy of consideration.

In Elliot Lake, the leading contender is likely Brett Wagner (40, 33-29-62, 1.55 points per game).

North Bay’s Ryan Demyen (41-22-22-44, 1.07 points per game) is averaging a point per game, but just barely.

Sudbury and Blind River have both been offensively challenged all season, but there is no rule that says the NOJHL’s MVP has to be a forward, is there?

So, how about giving some consideration to a couple of the league’s better blue liners for the honour.

If I was looking to build an NOJHL franchise, I might well start with Sudbury Nickel Barons D-man Khadyn Butterfly (41, 8-15-23, 44 penalty minutes) and Kirkland Lake Gold Miners puck mover Jeremy Picard-Fiset (39, 9-28-37, 22 penalty minutes).

Butterfly, a 6-2 and 185 pound Moosonee native, has surprising speed and skill for such a big man, while the much smaller Picard-Fiset uses quickness and puck sense to quarterback his team’s power play.

And if defenceman are worthy of MVP consideration, there is no reason that goaltenders shouldn’t be considered, as well.

Joel Horodziejczyk, of the Soo Thunderbirds, is clearly the best puck stopper in the NOJHL this season.

He leads the league in goals against average (1.67), shutouts (3) and save percentage (.936).

Given those out-of-this-world statistics, I would normally say that Horodziejczyk is the hands-down MVP of the NOJHL, but many would argue that goaltender statistics are more often the result of team defence, as opposed to the individual talent of any particular goalie.

That argument gains some credence when you consider the stats of Horodziejczyk’s back up, Brian Kment.

Kment has posted stats comparable to Horodziejczyk in his starts — 1.92 goals against average (1.67); 1 shutout (3); and .909 saves percentage (.909).

Other goalies who might enter the MVP conversation include Gold Miner Kenny Fitzgerald (2.09 goals against average, 1 shutout, .915 save percentage) and Eskimo Brody Wagner (3.39 goals against average, 1 shutout, .911 save percentage).

North Bay’s Evan Cormier isn’t likely to garner too much attention when it comes time to make the selection, but you have to give a few props to the 16-year-old puck stopper.

He has posted a 3.57 goals against average and a .909 save percentage in his rookie season and has shown that size (6-02 and 183 pounds) is not the only aspect he brings to the crease.

It is also interesting to note that only Michael Muzyka (955), of Nickel Barons, has faced more shots this season than Cormier (911) and fellow rookie Sylvain Miron, of the Eskimos, (815).

And lets not forget that Miron has not played that much since Wagner staked his claim to the No. 1 job with the Eskimos.

The Eskimos would not have been in a position for Wagner to lead them up the NOJHL standings had it not been for the stellar work Miron turned in earlier this season.

I feel fairly confident in suggesting that one of the players I have mentioned will be named NOJHL MVP for the 2013-14 season, but I am at a loss to say just which one will have his name engraved on the trophy.

I have had an opportunity to see Robichaud, Clouthier, Wagner and Miron play more games this season than the other players on my list, but each of the players I have mentioned has impressed me in one way, or another.

If I had a vote, and I don’t, I would be hard pressed to choose between Robichaud and Clouthier as the Eskimos MVP, let alone the NOJHL’s.

Hopefully the final 14 games will add some clarity to the MVP race, as each game becomes more important as the playoffs approach.