Tom’s NOJHL power rankings February 17

TIMMINS - With the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League’s regular season winding down, it’s time to give some consideration to who will be named the Most Valuable Player for the 2014-15 campaign.

Like last season, there are no shortage of candidates — with just about every team having at least one player deserving of serious consideration.

Any discussion concerning MVP candidates, of course, should start with Cochrane Crunch forward Cody Gratton (43, 51-35-86, 33).

Gratton leads the NOJHL in most offensive categories, including goals (51), points (86), short-handed goals (11) and game-winning goals (11).

At 5-8 and 175 pounds, Gratton is far from the biggest player in the NOJHL, but the Sudbury native is arguably its most exciting to watch.

Two of Gratton’s Crunch teammates — Dustin Cordeiro (39, 40-17-57, 38) and Josh Racek (40, 19-34-53, 23) — are also having fine offensive seasons.

Down Highway 11 in Iroquois Falls, Brady Clouthier (42, 37-44-81, 71) of the Abitibi Eskimos sits third in points, just five behind Gratton.

As we documented in an earlier column, there are a lot of similarities between Gratton and Clouthier.

Eskimos’ super sophomore Brenden Locke (42, 35-35-70, 21), three years younger than his linemate and Gratton, is also having an impressive campaign.

The third member of the Eskimos Killer Bs line, Brennan Roy (48, 27-36-63, 64), sits seventh in the league in scoring — despite being a defenceman for most of the season.

A little bit farther down Highway 11, in Kirkland Lake, the Gold Miners boast the NOJHL’s fifth leading scorer in Steven Babin (36, 20-44-64, 12), who has now missed 10 games because of injury.

Despite that setback, Babin is still tied for the NOJHL lead in assists with Clouthier. They have both recorded 44 helpers.

Gold Miners talented defenceman Jeremy Picard-Fiset (46, 5-41-46, 35) is also worthy of serious consideration.

Continuing our trek through the NOJHL’s East Division, Powassan Voodoos forward Steve Harland (44, 40-43-83, 8) has quietly moved into second place in the scoring race behind Gratton.

And with 40 goals, Harland is also tied with Cordeiro for second place in that category, as well.

Joe Sheppard has been the heart and soul of the Mattawa Blackhawks during their first season in the NOJHL and he might not be an obvious choice for MVP, but he deserves to be in the discussion all the same.

There are not as many clear-cut choices in the West Division, where teams such as the Soo Thunderbirds, Elliot Lake Wildcats and Sudbury Nickel Barons are built more on team play than individual success.

Having said that, however, Thunderbirds goalie Mario Culina (1502:02, 2, 2.32, .911) and Wildcats puck stopper A.J. Smith (1531:54, 2, 2.90, .913) are both having solid seasons.

Soo forward Nicolas Tassone (44, 27-33-60, 6) is also an exciting player to watch, as is Wildcats defenceman Nathan Campbell (45, 19-28-47, 40).

Having only seen the Nickel Barons play a handful of times because of the NOJHL’s unbalanced schedule, I am at a loss to identify an MVP candidate in Sudbury.

That should not, by the way, be taken as any kind of condemnation of the Nickel Barons. I have been impressed by their team-first approach every time I have seen them play.

The omission of a member of the Blind River Beaves, on the other hand …

Enough about MVP candidates, here is Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings for this week.

As with previous columns, 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.

1. (2-2) Soo Thunderbirds (33-6-1-5) — Brett Jeffries (45, 15-20-35, 21) scored four goals to lead the Thunderbirds to a 7-3 win over the Beavers on Tuesday. Matt Pinder (40, 16-19-35, 15) added three assists in the victory. Red-hot rookie Boris Katchouk (26, 15-21-36, 18) had a goal and two assists in the Thunderbirds 4-3 loss to the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Friday night. Culina earned the shutout as the Thunderbirds defeated the Nickel Barons 5-0 Monday afternoon. Jaren Bellini (42, 27-22-49, 10), with two goals and two assists, paced the attack. The Thunderbirds will travel to Powassan for a doubleheader with the Voodoos, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

2. (1-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (33-9-2-2) — Zach Pease (28, 11-14-25, 16) had the lone goal for the Gold Miners in their 2-1 loss to the Crunch in Cochrane on Tuesday. Jeremy Dumont (44, 20-21-41, 26) had two goals and an assist as Kirkland Lake defeated the Voodoos 5-2 in Powassan Friday night. Saturday night in Mattawa, Alexi Rivest (28, 7-7-14, 10) had a goal and three assistes in the Gold Miners 5-2 win over the Blackhawks. Joel Fortin (45, 17-12-29, 6) added two goals and an assist in that victory. The week ahead will see the Gold Miners travel to Sudbury for a game against the Nickel Barons on Wednesday night and then return home to host the Wildcats at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Friday night.

3. (3-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (32-10-2-1) — The Wildcats leading scorer, Cole Hepler (45, 26-38-64, 10) earned a pair of assists in the Wildcats 4-3 win over the Thunderbirds Friday night. Allan Menary (967:44, 0, 2.79, .899) made 38 saves to earn the victory in that contest. Tristan Hanna (240:00, 1, 1.00, .948) earned his first NOJHL shutout as the Wildcats blanked the Beavers 5-0 in Blind River Saturday night. Liam Blais (32, 11-7-18, 12) scored twice to key the offence for the Wildcats in that victory. Shane Woolsey (43, 23-23-46, 24) added a goal and an assist for the visitors. The Wildcats will take on the Crunch in Cochrane Thursday night, the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Friday night and the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Saturday night.

4. (4-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (26-12-1-3) — Defenceman Sheehan Kirkwood (12, 0-5-5, 6) picked up a pair of assists at the Nickel Barons edged the Blackhawks 3-2 Wednesday night. Christopher Rossi (41, 13-24-37, 2), Jackson Gunner (16, 1-1-2, 26) and August Jarecki (37, 15-23-38, 42) had the Sudbury goals. Kevin Labelle (1362:30, 0, 3.21, .910) made 36 saves for the Nickel Barons during Monday’s 5-0 loss to the Thunderbirds. After hosting the Gold Miners at the McClelland Arena Wednesday night, the Nickel Barons will travel to Mattawa for a game with the Blackhawks Friday night and to Blind Rivers to meet the Beavers Saturday night.

5. (5-1) Cochrane Crunch (27-16-0-2) — Gratton and Cordeiro had the goals as the Crunch defeated the Gold Miners 2-1 on home ice Tuesday night. Goalie Brett Young (1011:38, 0, 3.74, .908) made 40 saves to earn the victory. Young also earned an assist in the contest. The Crunch will host the Wildcats at the Tim Horton Event Centre Thursday night and the Eskimos Friday night.

6. (6-4) Abitibi Eskimos (24-20-0-4) — Roy (four goals, one assist) and Clouthier (five assists) had five-point nights at the Eskimos routed the Voodoos 9-4 in Powassan Saturday night. Locke (one goal, three assists) added four points. Tristan Salesse (29, 14-28-42, 23) added a goal and an assist. Locke had a pair of goals in Sunday afternoon’s 4-3 double overtime loss to the Blackhawks in Mattawa. Low scoring defenceman Joe Olson (10, 2-3-5, 6) picked up a goal and an assist, while fellow blue-liner Joshua DeJulio (45, 1-16-17, 17) added a pair of helpers. After travelling to Cochrane for a game with the Crunch Friday night, the Eskimos will return home to host the Wildcats at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.

7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (15-21-0-8) — David Sherman (10, 8-6-14, 4) scored twice during the Voodoos 9-5 win over the Blackhawks Monday night. Harland had three assists in that contest. Harland and Michael Silveri (38, 12-21-33, 19) had the Powassan goals in their 5-2 loss to the Gold Miners Friday night. Harland had two more goals in the Voodoos 9-4 loss to the Eskimos Saturday night. Jake Staples (12, 9-5-14, 2) picked up a goal and two assists in that contest, as well. The Voodoos will travel to Mattawa for a game with the Blackhawks on Wednesday night and then return home to host the Thunderbirds at the Powassan Sportsplex Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (10-32-0-3) — The Blackhawks opened the week with a 9-5 loss to the Voodoos on Monday night. Brett Ouderkirk (32, 9-12-21, 12) had a goal and two assists in that game. Sheppard made 37 saves in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Nickel Barons. Jimmy Philbin (44, 17-20-37, 12) and Ouderkirk had the Mattawa goals during Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the Gold Miners. Andy Williams (44, 17-20-37, 43) had the game-winning goal in double overtime Sunday, as the Blackhawks edged the Eskimos 4-3. Philbin had two goals and an assist in that contest. The Blackhawks will host the Voodoos at the Mike Rodden Arena Wednesday night and the Nickel Barons Friday night.

9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-45-0-1) — Regan Yew (18, 7-10-17, 14) scored twice in the Beavers 7-3 loss to the Thunderbirds on Tuesday. Chris Ordoobadi (36, 10-7-17, 41) had a goal and an assist in that contest. Zach Mills (1317:36, 0, 6.60, .856) made 31 saves. Mills and Braddock Baalerud (688:09, 0, 5.41, .877) split the goaltending duties during the Beaves 5-0 loss to the Wildcats Saturday night. The Beavers quest for their first win of the 2014-15 NOJHL season will see them host the Nickel Barons at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night.