By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – As of Wednesday morning, four NOJHL teams have yet to taste defeat early in the 2015-16 season.
And as one might expect, those four teams dominate Tom’s Top 12 NOJHL power rankings this week.
The defending league champion Soo Thunderbirds and the surprising Powassan Voodoos have each won their first five games, while the Cochrane Crunch and the Rayside-Balfour Canadians have won their first four contests.
What makes these four squads stand head and shoulders above the competition at this point in the season?
All four of those squads have demonstrated a fine combination of offence and defence.
A quick look at the Top 10 scorers in the NOJHL shows that seven of the 10 players play for one of those four squads.
You get a similar stat when you check out the Top 10 goalies to this point in the season.
None of these four teams will likely run the table and win all 54 games this season, although if the 2014-15 Blind River Beavers could go an entire season without winning a game, anything is possible.
Still, winning every game is a lot more difficult than going an entire season without a victory.
So, which one of these four squads holds down the top spot in Tom’s Top 12 NOJHL power rankings this week?
Here is the answer to that question, along with a recap of the past week and what the upcoming week holds for the 12 NOJHL squads. The number in brackets after the ranking represents how the team was ranked last week:
• No. 1 (2). Cochrane Crunch (4, 4-0-0-0, 8) — The Crunch might have one win fewer than the Thunderbirds and the Voodoos, but it is goals for and against that has Ryan Leonard’s boys at the top of this week’s rankings. The offensive juggernaut has potted nine more goals than the Thunderbirds and 10 more than the Voodoos. Defensively, the Crunch have allowed just five goals this season. If this keeps up, the folks at Oxford might have to revise the spelling of the word efficient to C-r-u-n-c-h. After beating up on the Iroquois Falls Eskimos twice during the first weekend of action, the Crunch went into Espanola and beat the Express 10-0 and French River where they tripled the Rapids 6-2 this past week. Brett Young, who leads the NOJHL with a 1.00 goals against average and an unreal .969 save percentage and has won all three of his starts, got the shutout against the Express. Hunter Atchison, who leads the NOJHL scoring race with 18 points, had two goals and four assists to pace the attack. Seamus Maguire, who is second in scoring with 13 points, had two goals and three assists. Maguire added two goals and an assist against the Rapids, while Dustin Cordeiro, whose 10 goals lead the NOJHL, recorded his second-straight two-goal game.
The week ahead: Things will get a whole lot tougher for the Crunch this week as they host the Canadians at the Tim Horton Event Centre Thursday night and the Thunderbirds Friday night then travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Monday night.
• No. 2 (1) 1. Soo Thunderbirds (5, 5-0-0-0, 10) — Thunderbirds fans might be wondering how their team wins all three games it played last week, remains perfect at 5-0-0-0 and yet gets knocked out of the top spot in the rankings. Well, two of those three wins came against an improved Beavers squad but it really has little to do with any shortcomings coach Jordan Smith’s team may or may not have and more to do with the strong start of the Crunch. Matt Pinder and Matt Murray each had a goal and an assist as the Thunderbirds started off their week with a 6-1 win over the Beavers on home ice last Wednesday night. Two nights later, Matthew Mitchell scored a power-play goal with 15 seconds remaining in regulation to lift the Soo to a 4-3 win over the Timmins Rock. Then on Sunday, Pinder netted the game-winner in overtime as the Thunderbirds edged the Beavers 4-3 in Blind River. In case you were wondering — and why wouldn’t you be — the Thunderbirds have five players whose first name is either Matt or Matthew.
The week ahead: The Soo heads north for a three-game road trip that will see them make stops in Cochrane Friday night, Iroquois Falls Saturday night and Timmins Sunday afternoon.
• No. 3 (4). Powassan Voodoos (5, 5-0-0-0, 10) — The Voodoos recorded a pair of road victories this past week before returning home win their fifth-straight hockey game. Josh Ibbitson scored the game-winner in overtime as the Voodoos edged the Wildcats 5-4 in Elliot Lake Friday night. The following night Michael Silveri had a goal and two assists to lead Powassan to a 5-1 win over the Beavers in Blind River. Eric Nagy added three assists in that contest. Back on home ice, Tyler Peters scored a natural hat-trick as the Voodoos beat the Express 4-1.
The week ahead: The Voodoos lone game this week will see them host the Crunch at the Powassan Sportsplex Monday night.
• No. 4 (3). Rayside Balfour Canadians (4, 4-0-0-0, 8) — The Canadians got a scare last Wednesday in French River but managed to pull out a 5-4 win against the Rapids. Ryan Erickson had a goal and two assists to pace the attack for the Canadians. Matt Neault and Danny Lepage each had a shorthanded goal for Rayside-Balfour. Bradley Chenier had a shorthanded goal and two assist as the Canadians doubled the Wildcats 6-3 Saturday night. Neault and Kyle Fransen each added a goal and an assist for the winners.
The week ahead: The Canadians will play three games in three nights on the road this week, starting in Cochrane Thursday night. They will then take on the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Friday night and the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Saturday night.
• No. 5 (8). Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (4, 3-1-0-0, 6) — The Gold Miners looked a little more like a team worthy of hosting the Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament this week as they swept a home-and-home series with the Eskimos. Logan Fredericks had two goals and two assists as the Gold Miners scored a 7-4 home-ice win Friday night. Joel Fortin added a pair of goals and an assist in that contest. The following night in Iroquois Falls Marc Audet made 30 saves as the Gold Miners blanked the Eskimos 4-0. Brayden Stortz netted the game-winning goal, while Fredericks added two more goals to his season’s total.
The week ahead: The Gold Miners will host the Rapids at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night and the Canadians on Saturday night.
• No. 6 (5). Elliot Lake Wildcats (4, 1-1-2-0, 4) — It seems strange not to see the Wildcats listed among the league’s top teams, but let’s not forget Elliot Lake has just the one regulation loss. The Wildcats dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to the Voodoos on home ice Friday night. Spencer MacLean and Connor Rider each had a goal and an assist, while Alec MacKenzie chipped in with a pair of assists. Elliot Lake got goals from Ty Hannaford, Ryan Hackett and MacLean the following night during a 6-3 loss to the Canadians in Rayside-Balfour.
The week ahead: The Wildcats will play a home-and-home series with the Soo Eagles, hosting their West Division rivals at the Centennial Arena Friday night and then travelling to Sault, Mich., for a contest Saturday night.
• No. 7 (6). Timmins Rock (6, 2-3-0-1, 5) — The Rock were only able to pick up three of a possible six points this past week despite playing some pretty good hockey on the weekend. Zachary Kercz scored three goals but it wasn’t enough as the Rock dropped an 8-6 decision to the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls last Wednesday. The came within 15 seconds of getting at least one point in Sault Ste. Marie Friday night before dropping a 4-3 decision to the Thunderbirds. Tristan Salesse and Michael Norris each had a goal and an assist. Matthew Nixon made 41 saves in a losing cause. Logan Ferrington made 29 stops as the Rock tied the Eagles 1-1 in Sault, Mich., Saturday night. Salesse had the Timmins goal. The Rock ended the road trip with a 6-2 win against the Express in Espanola Sunday afternoon. Norris had two goals and an assist, while Salesse also scored twice. Nixon made 45 saves to earn the win.
The week ahead: After hosting the Eskimos Wednesday night the Rock will welcome the Thunderbirds to McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.
• No. 8 (10). Soo Eagles (2, 1-2-0-1, 3) — Evan Ketner’s shorthanded goal proved to be the game-winner as the Eagles defeated the visiting Beavers Friday night. Dayton Honkanen, Jacob Palmerio and Nate Harris also scored for the Eagles. Jack Hickey made 53 saves Saturday night as the Eagles battled the Rock to a 1-1 draw. Kitner’s power-play goal late in the second period was the lone goal for the Soo.
The week ahead: The Eagles will travel to Elliot Lake for a game with the Wildcats Friday night and then host their West Division rivals at Pullar Stadium.
• No. 9 (7). Blind River Beavers (6, 1-1-0-1, 3) — Max Khull had the lone Blind River goal in their 6-1 loss to the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie last Wednesday night. Andrew Trowbridge had Blind River’s goal in Friday night’s 4-1 loss to the Eagles in Sault, Mich. Back home Saturday night, Nathan Hans scored for the Beavers during a 5-1 loss to the Voodoos. Goalie Martin Miloslavich made 42 saves as the Beavers picked up a point in a 4-3 home-ice loss to the Thunderbirds on Sunday. Austin Hickner, Brendan MacKenzie and Joseph Eben had the Blind River goals.
The week ahead: After playing in French River Wednesday night, the Beavers will play a home-and-home series with the Express this weekend. The two teams will meet in Espanola Friday night and then at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night.
• No. (10) 12. Iroquois Falls Eskis (5, 1-4-0-0, 2) — Brett Ouderkirk scored a natural hat-trick and added three assists as the Eskimos came from behind to defeat the Timmins Rock 8-6 on home ice last Wednesday. David Osborne added two goals and three assists, while Jacob Erwin chipped in with a goal and three assists. Dan Davies made 35 saves in relief of starter Josh Horner to earn the win. Osborne had a goal and an assist in Friday night’s 7-3 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake. Erwin had a shorthanded marker, as well. Davies made 31 saves in relief of Horner the following night as the Eskimos were blanked 4-0 by the Gold Miners.
The week ahead: After taking on the Rock in Timmins Wednesday night, the Eskimos will host the Canadians at the Jus Jordan Arena Friday night and the Thunderbirds on Saturday night.
• No. 11 (11). French River Rapids (2, 0-4-0-0, 0) — The Rapids are still searching for their first victory, but they came close to upsetting the Canadians on home ice last Wednesday before dropping a 5-4 decision. Bret McInall had a goal and an assist for the Rapids. Goalie Alec St. Georges made 40 saves in a losing cause. Caleb Rich and Tyler King scored for the home side during a 6-2 loss to the Crunch Saturday night.
The week ahead: After hosting the Beavers Wednesday night, the Rapids travelled to Kirkland Lake for a game with the Gold Miners Friday night.
• No. 12 (9). Espanola Express (5, 0-5-0-0, 0) — It is hard to imagine a Tom McCarthy-coached team getting off to an 0-5-0-0 start but the Express have struggled so far this season. Goalies Aaron Callan and Mitchell Jones combined to make 53 saves in a 10-0 home-ice loss to the Crunch Friday night. Jason Bednarski and Riley Nadeau had the Espanola goals in Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the Rock. Ian Thompson had the lone Express goal in Monday’s 4-1 loss in Powassan.
The week ahead: The Express will play a home-and-home series with the Beavers this weekend, with the two sides facing off at the Espanola Regional Recreation Complex Friday night and in Blind River Saturday night.
Following are the leaders in the various NOJHL categories: