The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League will be celebrating its golden anniversary in the 2011-2012 season.
The 7-team junior ‘A’ league will be celebrating the history of the North’s Junior Hockey league in a number of ways this season, including a 50 year anniversary banner which will be presented and hung in all NOJHL arena’s for the start of the new NOJHL season.
NOJHL HISTORICAL REVIEW
It all started with a simple question asked at the Sudbury CPR station in 1962.
A mother asked the question “why do our sons have to travel 300 miles to play Junior hockey?
The question was fired at Red McCarthy who was at the station welcoming former Espanola Lions Juvenile players back to town after a season playing in the South.
From that meeting at the CPR station McCarthy met with Max Silverman of Sudbury and Angelo Bumbacco of Sault Ste Marie and discussed the mothers question and a formal meeting of interested parties was set up at the Espanola Hotel in Espanola for July 29, 1962.
A total of 28 interested hockey men were at the inaugural meeting and plans were set in place to have additional meetings and set a date for the upcoming season.
The inaugural season teams were the Espanola Eagles, North Bay Trappers, Soo Greyhounds, Sudbury Wolves, Garson-Falconbridge Native Sons and the Sault, Michigan Realtors.
The teams played a 40 game schedule with the Soo Greyhounds recording the first league championship and the Espanola Eagles the playoff championship.
Ron Allain a member of the Espanola Eagles was the scoring champion with 77 points.
The league set territories for each team with players having to reside within the territory of the team they wished to play for for six months prior to the start of the season.
Following the inaugural season the same teams battled in the second season before the Michigan squad left the league.
Over the following seasons the league operated with five teams with the Garson-Falconbridge Native Sons dropping out in 1970 and the Chelmsford Canadiens taking their place.
The Espanola Eagles left the league following the 1970-71 season and then following one season of interlocking play with the Southern league by the four remaining teams the league decided to take a hiatus when the Greyhounds and Wolves joined the OHL.
After five seasons of Junior B hockey the Junior A league resurfaced for the 1978-79 season and has been operating ever since.
The league over the years has been very successful in moving players on to higher levels of hockey and academically a large number of players have continued their education at universities and colleges.
Several notable names from the early years went on to successful careers including Tony Esposito, Wayne Maki, Mike Zuke, Ivan Boldirev, Jerry Korab, Randy Holt, Bill Barber, Floyd Thomson, Sheldon Kannegeiser, Ab Demarco Jr and many more.
Wayne Lachance, a defenceman for the Espanola Eagles went on to a successful minor pro career before becoming a majority owner of the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League.
Since the revitalization of the league in the late 70’s the National Hockey League has seen former NOJHL’ers Steve Sullivan, Todd Bertuzzi, Brian Savage, Andrew Brunette, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Thorburn, Derek MacKenzie join the pro ranks and many more moved into the minor pro level.
The American Colleges rosters have grown over the last few years with a number of players moving on after completing their junior careers and the Canadian University leagues have also added several graduating NOJHL players.
The Rayside Balfour Sabrecats were one of the most successful teams in the modern years of the league winning the league and playoff titles for seven straight seasons starting with the 1995-96 season.
The Sabrecats went undefeated in the 1999-2000 regular season running off forty straight victories.
Since the turn of the century the Sabrecats won the league and playoff title for 2000-01 and 2001-02 and then the North Bay Skyhawks won both titles for three straight seasons.
Since the Skyhawks success there has not been a back to back winner in the last six seasons and only the Soo Thunderbirds have won the league title twice, winning in 2007-08 and again in the past season.
The Soo, Michigan squad under two different names the Indians and Eagles have won the playoffs twice as have the Sudbury squad under the Northern Wolves and Junior Wolves banner.
Was the mother’s question back at a train station in Sudbury answered? You bet it was and the North is that better known because of its junior hockey league.