TIMMINS - It would appear that all the tinkering Cochrane Crunch coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard has been with his roster is starting to pay dividends.
Normally, a three-game trip through the heart of the West Division would produce plenty of pain and not many points for any NOJHL squad.
The Crunch, however, made the trek look easy, defeating the Thunderbirds 3-2 in Sault Ste. Marie Friday night, the hapless Beavers 4-1 in Blind River Saturday night and the Wildcats 6-4 in Elliot Lake Sunday — in front of 777 fans.
That last one had to feel especially gratifying for Leonard and the former Elliot Lake Bobcats players and personnel still with the franchise.
No fewer than eight of the players who suited up with the Crunch for the final game of the road trip were not with the squad when the puck dropped on the NOJHL regular season back in September.
The newest of those eight players, goalie Brett Young (120:00, 0, 3.00, .925), was in net for the wins in Sault Ste. Marie and Elliot Lake.
More on the Crunch and their newcomers a little later in this column, but our look at Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings (the first number in the brackets represents the team’s ranking last week, while the second refers to their ranking before the start of the season), as it has most of the season, starts with the Thunderbirds:
1. (1-2) Soo Thunderbirds (19-4-0-2) — Even after Friday night’s 3-2 loss to the Crunch, the Thunderbirds have only lost four times in regulation all season and, even more impressive, have surrendered just 64 goals in the 25 games they have played. After spotting the Crunch a 3-0 lead, the Thunderbirds stormed back on goals by Joey Ogden (13, 7-9-16, 6) and Matt Pinder (20, 10-7-17, 8), but they could not get the equalizer. One of the keys to Cochrane’s success was keeping Nicolas Tassone (24, 16-22-38, 4), Jaren Bellini (25, 16-13-29, 8) and Nicolas Sicoly (24, 12-13-25, 12). Transactions: None. The Thunderbirds will host the Beavers at the John Rhodes Community Centre Friday night and the Nickel Barons Saturday night.
2. (4-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (17-7-1-1) — The Wildcats split a pair of games this past weekend, defeating the Beavers 7-1 Friday night and then dropping a 6-4 decision to the Crunch on Sunday. Spencer MacLean (26, 14-23-37, 14) had a goal and two assists to lead Elliot Lake past Blind River. Goalie Allan Menary (460:06, 0, 3.00, .892) faced just 13 shots, while picking up the victory. MacLean had two goals and an assist in Sunday’s loss, as well. Transactions: Jeff Wilson traded to Lindsay Muskies (OJHL); Kyle Salmon acquired from Notre Dame Hounds (SJHL). The Wildcats will host the Blackhawks at the Centennial Arena Friday night and then travel to Blind River for a game with the Beavers Saturday night.
3. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (20-6-0-1) — The road woes continued for the Gold Miners this weekend, as they struggled to get past the Voodoos in Powassan Friday night, before dropping a one-goal decision to the Blackhawks in Mattawa Saturday night. Former Eskimos Jamey Lauzon (20, 2-6-8, 26) scored the game-winning goal Friday night. Hearst native Ryan Aubertin (13, 12-12-24, 2) had a goal and two assists in that game. Aubertin added a goal and an assist against the Blackhawks, while Steven Babin (27, 12-36-48, 10) picked up a pair of assists in that game. Transactions: None. The week ahead will see the Gold Miners host the Eskimos at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night and the Crunch Saturday night.
4. (6-1) Cochrane Crunch (17-8-0-2) — Cody Gratton (25, 34-21-55, 22) had all three goals, including the game winner short handed, in the 3-2 win over the Thunderbirds Friday night. He followed that up by scoring three of Cochrane’s four goals against the Beavers Saturday night and then had two goals and two assists in the 6-4 win in Elliot Lake Sunday. Newcomer Ian Skinner (11, 3-3-6, 0) had the other goal against Blind River, while another newcomer, Henry Berger (5, 3-4-7, 4), had a goal and two assists against the Wildcats. Transactions: Liam Hurley traded to Dundas Blues Jr. C; Young acquired from Johnstown Tomahawks (NAHL). The Crunch will host the Voodoos at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night, before travelling to Kirkland Lake for a game with the Gold Miners Saturday night.
5. (4-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (15-6-1-2) — Matt Neault (23, 9-10-19, 18) had two goals in the Nickel Barons 5-1 win over the Beavers Wednesday night. Joel Lemay (24, 5-10-15, 10) had a goal and an assist in that contest, as well. Rookie goalie Kevin Labelle (792:21, 0, 3.03, .920) made 18 saves to pick up the win. Transactions: Jackson Gunner acquired from Orillia Jr. C; Khadyn Butterfly traded to Hamilton Red Wings (OJHL). The Nickel Barons will host the Voodoos Wednesday night at the McClelland Arena, before travelling to Sault Ste. Marie for a game with the Thunderbirds Saturday night.
6. (5-4) Abitibi Eskimos (15-10-0-3) — Defenceman Ryan Kerr (26, 3-19-22, 31) had a goal and four assists in Saturday night’s 10-6 win over the Voodoos. Fellow blue-liner Nick Hautanen (24, 2-7-9, 12) had two goals and two assists in that game. Jake Holland (10, 9-14-23, 8) had three goals and an assist, while Tristan Salesse (9, 4-13-17, 4) had a goal and three helpers. Ryan Tront (16, 12-11-23, 16) returned from the injury list to score a pair of goals, as well. Holland and Brady Clouthier (25, 19-25-44, 33) each had a goal and an assist against the Blackhawks on Sunday, while Hautanen chipped in with a pair of assists. Transactions: Ryan Ferguson acquired from the Fort Frances Lakers (SIJHL). The Eskimos will travel to Kirkland Lake for a game with the Gold Miners Friday night, before returning home to host the Voodoos at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (9-11-0-4) — After winning five of six games to climb close to .500, the Voodoos were only able to pick up a single point this weekend. Steve Harland (24, 21-16-37, 0) had a goal and an assist in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Gold Miners Friday night. Traven Reed (20, 1-3-4, 56) and Josh Ibbetson (21, 1-9-10, 34) each picked up a pair of assists. Harland and Kyle Moore (19, 10-8-18, 14) each had a goal and two assists in the 10-6 loss to the Eskimos Saturday night. Transactions: None. The Voodoos are on the road for games in Sudbury Wednesday night, Cochrane Friday night and Iroquois Falls Saturday night.
8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (4-21-0-1) — The Blackhawks doubled their win total by defeating the Gold Miners 4-3 Saturday night and the Eskimos 7-4 on Sunday. Tyler Broderson (26, 11-9 -20, 10) had two goals to pace the attack against the Gold Miners, while Andy Williams (25, 7-11-18, 23) added three assists. Broderson added three goals and an assist Sunday against the Eskimos, while Jimmy Philbin (25, 7-13-20, 6) had two goals and an assist. Transactions: None. The Blackhawks will travel to Elliot Lake for a game against the Wildcats Friday night.
9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-26-0-1) — The Beavers have now played 27 games without tasting victory, after dropping a 7-1 decision to the Wildcats Friday night and suffering a 4-1 setback at the hands of the Crunch on Saturday night. Nathan Johnson (24, 5-10-15, 21) had the lone goal in Friday night’s loss, while Regan Yew (2, 1-0-1, 0) had the Beavers’ only goal on home ice Saturday night against Cochrane. Transactions: None. The Beavers travel to Sault Ste. Marie Friday night to face the No. 1-ranked Thunderbirds and then return home to host the No. 2-ranked Wildcats at the Centennial Arena Saturday night. Can you say 0-28-0-1 Beavers fans?