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NOJHL Notes: Season of change

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

TIMMINS – The more things change, the more they remain the same.

As the end of the 2014-15 NOJHL regular season approached Cochrane Crunch forward Dustin Cordeiro led the league in goals scored and one of his teammates who wore No. 77 (Cody Gratton) sat atop the points race.

Gratton, of course, would pick up a suspension late in the year that would cost him any chance at winning the scoring title, but Cordeiro went on to pot 52 goals and establish himself as the league’s top sniper.

Two games into the 2015-16 campaign and Cordeiro again leads the NOJHL with six goals — two more than Sean Paterson, of the Blind River Beavers.

Meanwhile, Hunter Atchison — who now wears No. 77 for the Crunch — sits atop the league scoring race with nine points, two more than Cordeiro.

There are, of course, plenty of other changes around the league this season, starting with the number of teams.

The NOJHL now features 12 teams, up from the nine it iced a year ago.

Those squads have been divided into East and West Divisions, with the Crunch, Powassan Voodoos, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Timmins Rock, French River Rapids and Iroquois Falls Eskimos in the East and the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, Soo Thunderbirds, Elliot Lake Wildcats, Blind River Beavers, Espanola Express and Soo Eagles in the West.

The three new teams are the Rapids, the Express and the Eagles, while the Rock are the former Abitibi Eskimos, the Eskimos are the former Mattawa Blackhawks and the Canadians are the former Sudbury Nickel Barons.

Perhaps the most exciting change in the early going, however, is that the Beavers have managed to find the victory column in just their second game of the season after going winless during the entire 2014-15 campaign.

Here is a look at how the squads fared during their first two games, as well as what the week ahead holds for them and my initial Tom’s Top 12 NOJHL power rankings:

• No. 1. Soo Thunderbirds (2, 2-0-0-0, 4) — The Thunderbirds swept both ends of a home-and-home series with their U.S.cousins winning 5-2 on home ice Friday night and 6-3 on the road Saturday night. Caleb Boman had a goal and an assist in Friday’s victory, while Darian Pilon earned three assists in the contest. Nathan Hebert, Bowman and Brett Jeffries each had a goal and an assist Saturday night, while Jake Behse chipped in with a pair of helpers.

The week ahead: After hosting the Beavers on Wednesday night (results were not available at press time), the Thunderbirds will travel to Blind River for a rematch Sunady afternoon.

• No. 2. Cochrane Crunch (2, 2-0-0-0, 4) — Atchison (two goals, two assists) and Seamus Maguire (one goal, three assists) each had four-point nights as the Crunch beat the Eskimos 7-1 in front of 640 enthusiastic fans during their home opener Friday night. Goalie Brett Young made 35 saves to earn the win. One night later Cordeiro lit the lamp five times to lead the Crunch to an 11-2 win over the home side during the Eskimos home opener at the Jus Jordan Arena. Atchison (one goal, four assists) also had a five-point night, while Young turned aside 41 shots to secure the victory.

The week ahead: The Crunch take on the Express in Espanola Friday night and the Rapids in French River Saturday night.

• No. 3. Rayside Balfour Canadians (2, 2-0-0-0, 4) — Former New Liskeard Cub Cayse Ton had a goal and an assist as the Canadians beat the Express in Espanola Friday night. Matt Neault had the game-winning goal. Kevin Labelle made 28 saves to earn the victory. The Canadians home opener was a little bit tighter, but they were able to edge the Express 4-3. Defenceman Kyle Fransen scored three power-play goals, including the game-winner, while Brett Whitehead and Joel Lemay each had a pair of assists. Jessie Morin made 30 saves to earn the win.

The week ahead: After travelling to French River Wednesday night (results were not available at press time), the Canadians will host the Wildcats at the Chelmsford Arena Saturday night.

• No. 4. Powassan Voodoos (2, 2-0-0-0, 4) — Eric Champagne netted a pair of goals, including the game-winner, as the Voodoos held off a determined Rapids squad during their home opener Friday night. Steve Harland, the NOJHL’s 2014-15 scoring champ, added a goal and an assist for the winners, while Jake Staples and Christian Whitcomb each registered a pair of helpers. Whitcomb had the game-winning goal the following night, as the Voodoos edged the Wildcats 4-3 in overtime back home at the Powassan Sportsplex. Tyler Peters added a goal and an assist in that contest, as well.

The week ahead: The Voodoos will travel to Elliot Lake to take on the Wildcats Friday night, Blind River to take on the Beavers Saturday night and then return home to host the Express Monday night.

• No. 5. Elliot Lake Wildcats (2, 1-0-1-0, 3) — The Wildcats were firing on all cylinders during their home-opening 7-1 win over the Beavers Friday night. Spencer MacLean had two goals and an assist to pace the attack. Connor Rider added a goal and two helpers for the winners. Veteran goalie Allan Menary made 29 saves to earn the victory. Saturday night, the Wildcats pushed the Voodoos to overtime before dropping a 4-3 decision in Powassan. Artur Terchiyev had a goal and an assist in the OT loss.

The week ahead: The Wildcats will host the Voodoos Friday night at the Centennial Arena before heading out on the road to face the Canadians in Rayside-Balfour Saturday night.

• No. 6. Timmins Rock (2, 1-1-0-0, 2) — Playing the first regular-season game in franchise history, the Rock suffered a tough 4-2 loss in Kirkland Lake Friday night. Jordan Rendle and Mike Norris found the back of the net for the visitors, while goalie Logan Ferrington made 31 saves. Veteran forward Tristan Salesse scored twice to lead the Rock to their first victory the following night in front of 1,046 fans back home at the McIntyre Arena. Ferrington made 32 saves to earn the victory.

The week ahead: After playing the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Wednesday night (results were not available at press time), the Rock embark on a three-game road trip that will see them make stops in Sault Ste. Marie Friday night, Sault, Mich., Saturday night and Espanola last Sunday afternoon.

• No. 7. Blind River Beavers (2, 1-1-0-0, 2) — Paterson had the lone goal for the Beavers in their 7-1 loss to the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Friday night. He followed that up with a three-goal effort to lead the Beavers past the Rapids 11-2 the next night in front of 385 loyal fans in Blind River. After picking up only a single point while going winless during the 2014-15 NOJHL season, you would excuse Blind River residents if they began planning a victory parade following Saturday night’s contest. Cole Murray and Jason Uhl each added a pair of goals for the winners, while Alex Dajia chipped in with a goal and two helpers.

The week ahead: After travelling to Sault Ste. Marie Wednesday night (results were not available at press time), the Beavers will visit the Eagles in Sault, Mich., Friday night, then return home to host the Voodoos at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night and the Thunderbirds Sunday afternoon.

• No. 8. Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (2, 1-1-0-0, 2) — Brayden Stortz (one goal, three assists) was involved in all four goals as the Gold Miners, who will host the Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament this year, doubled the Rock 4-2 in Kirkland Lake’s home opener Friday night. Brandon Wolfe added a pair of goals in the win. Goalie Marc Audet returned to the Gold Miners and made 20 stops to record the victory. Things did not go quite so well for the Gold Miners the following night, as they dropped a 6-1 decision to the Rock in Timmins. Stortz had the lone goal for Kirkland Lake.

The week ahead: The Gold Miners will play a home-and-home series with the Eskimos this weekend, hosting the Eskimos at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night and then travelling to Iroquois Falls Saturday night.

• No. 9. Espanola Express (2, 0-2-0-0, 0) — The Express are still looking for their first victory following the return of the NOJHL to Espanola. Ian Thompson had the lone goal as the Express dropped their home opener 4-1 to the Canadians Friday night. Goalie P.J. Sabourin made 31 saves while being tagged with the loss. MacKenzie Aiken picked up a goal and an assist during Saturday night’s 4-3 loss to the Canadians in Rayside-Balfour. Cameron Anklewich assisted on all three Express goals. Goalie Aaron Callan made 47 saves in a losing cause.

The week ahead: The Express will host the Crunch at the Espanola Regional Recreation Complex Friday night and the Rock Saturday night before travelling to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Monday night.

• No. 10. Soo Eagles (2, 0-2-0-0, 0) — Jacob Palmerio and Nate Harris had the goals as the Eagles dropped a 5-2 decision to the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie Friday night. Goalie Jack Hickey made 28 saves in a losing cause. Trevor Jestadt, Jacob Hernandez and Landon Hubbard found the back of the net the following night, as the Eagles played their home opener at Pullar Stadium. Jack Deines turned aside 43 of the 49 shots the Thunderbirds fired his way.

The week ahead: The Eagles will host the Beavers Friday night at Pullar Stadium and the Rock Saturday night.

• No. 11. French River Rapids (2, 0-2-0-0, 0) — Caleb Rich scored twice and added an assist as the Rapids gave the Voodoos everything they could handle before dropping a 6-5 decision in their home opener in front of 450 fans. Brennan Kelly added a goal and an assist, while goalie Alec St. Georges made 51 saves in the French River net. The Rapids first road game did not go quite so well, as French River dropped an 11-2 decision to the Beavers. Thomas Farrell and B.J. Chard had the Rapids goals.

The week ahead: After taking on the Canadians Wednesday night (results were not available at press time), the Rapids will host the Crunch Saturday night at the Noelville Arena.

• No. 12. Iroquois Falls Eskimos (2, 0-2-0-0, 0) — Brett Ouderkirk scored the first goal in Iroquois Falls Eskimos history, but the visitors dropped a 7-1 decision to the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night. Jacob Erwin had both goals one night later as the Eskimos dropped an 11-2 decision to the Crunch during the home opener at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls. Goalies Dan Davies and Josh Horner combined to make 46 saves.

The week ahead: After hosting the Rock on Wednesday night (results were not available at press time), the Eskimos travel to Kirkland Lake Friday night and then host the Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night. They then travel to Timmins for a rematch with the Rock Wednesday night.