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Tom’s NOJHL power rankings February 24

TIMMINS - The biggest news concerning the NOJHL this past week came out of city council chambers, not any of the league’s nine arenas.

The Abitibi Eskimos announced on Tuesday, first at an Iroquois Falls town council meeting and then later at a Timmins city council meeting, that the franchise will be relocating to the City with a Heart of Gold for the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

The move had been long rumoured — especially with Resolute Forest Products announcing in December that it was closing its paper mill in Iroquois Falls.

Still the move comes as a major shock and disappointment for loyal fans in that community who have supported Junior ‘A’ hockey for more than a decade.

Reaction in Timmins, on the other hand, has been very enthusiastic.

Oh, there have been a few naysayers who have suggested it “won’t work in Timmins.”

They argue that is why the Golden Bears franchise departed Timmins for the Jus Jordan Arena.

A lot has changed in that time, however, and Timmins fans have been crying for a return of Junior ‘A’ hockey for a number of years.

There has been much speculation about what the Timmins franchise will be called, with team president Scott Marshall saying it is unlikely the team will go by either the Eskimos or Gold Bears names.

He also suggested that the name North Stars is not likely an option either, even though that is the name associated with many of the minor hockey teams in Timmins.

The branding of the franchise will just be one of the many developments to watch for in the coming weeks.

We will have more about the return of Junior ‘A’ hockey to Timmins in future columns, but let’s take a look at Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings for this week.

You will notice there is only one minor change following games this past 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. (1-2) Soo Thunderbirds (35-6-1-5) — The Thunderbirds earned a pair of victories over the Voodoos in Powassan this past week. Jaren Bellini (44, 28-23-51, 10) and Nicolas Tassone (46, 30-35-65, 6) each had a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Voodoos. Tassone had two goals and an assist in Sunday’s 6-1 victory, while Matt Pinder (42, 18-20-38, 17) also had a pair of goals. Boris Katchouk (28, 17-23-40, 18) added a goal and two assists. The Thunderbirds will travel to Blind River for a game with the Beavers Wednesday night and then return home to face the Sudbury Nickel Barons Saturday night.

2. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (34-10-2-2) — After earning a big 7-2 road win against the Nickel Barons in Sudbury Wednesday night, the Gold Miners dropped a 1-0 decision to the Elliot Lake Wildcats on home ice Friday night. Jeremy Dumont (46, 22-22-44, 28) and Zach Pease (30, 13-15-28, 16) each had two goals and an assist in Wednesday’s victory. Ryan Aubertin (34, 24-25-49, 10) added three assists in that contest. Josh Erickson (1678:59, 1, 2.25, .921) turned aside 21 of the 22 shots he faced in Friday night’s 1-0 loss to the Wildcats. The Gold Miners will play a home-and-home series with the Crunch this week, travelling to Cochrane for a game on Friday night and then returning home to host them at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Saturday night.

3. (3-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (34-11-2-1) — The Wildcats defeated the Crunch 4-2 in Cochrane Thursday night and the Gold Miners 1-0 in Kirkland Lake Friday night, before closing out their three-game road trip with a 4-3 loss to the Abitibi Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Saturday night. Liam Blais (35, 13-9-22, 12) had a goal and an assists against the Crunch, while A.J. Smith (1711:54, 3, 2.80, .914) was solid in his first start in more than two weeks. Smith made 22 saves to earn his league-leading third shutout the following night in Kirkland Lake. The Wildcats’ leading scorer, Cole Hepler (48, 27-38-65, 10), had the gameֹ’s lone goal. Jason Wilson (47, 12-14-26, 42) had a goal and an assist in Saturday night’s loss to the Eskimos. The Wildcats will host the Nickel Barons at the Centennial Arena on Friday night and then travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos on Saturday night.

4. (4-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (28-13-1-3) — After being beaten 7-2 on home ice by the Gold Miners on Wednesday night, the Nickel Barons beat the Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime in Mattawa Friday night and the Beavers 9-2 in Blind River on Sunday. Defenceman Ryan Mooney (43, 7-20-27, 26) had one of the Nickel Barons goals in Wednesday’s 7-2 loss. Sheehan Kirkwood (15, 1-7-8, 6) had the game-winning goal in overtime and added an assist in Friday’s win over the Blackhawks. Kyle Fransen (41, 7-30-37, 22) had a goal and three assist in the Nickel Barons’ big win over the Beavers. Matt Neault (43, 13-13-26, 40) and Tyler Brisson (2, 2-1-3, 0) each had a pair of goals in the victory. After hosting the Crunch at the McClellnad Arena Wednesday night, the Nickel Barons will travel to Elliot Lake for a game with the Wildcats on Friday night and to Sault Ste. Marie for a game with the Thunderbirds on Saturday night.

5. (6-4) Abitibi Eskimos (26-20-0-4) — The Eskimos’ Killer Bs line of Brenden Locke (44, 37-39-76, 19), Brady Clouthier (44, 39-48-87, 75) and Brennan Roy (50, 29-41-70, 68) combined for 12 scoring points in the Eskimos 7-3 win over the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night. Roy had a goal and two assists to pace the attack in Saturday night’s 4-3 home-ice win over the Wildcats. Goalie Logan Ferrington (911:46, 0, 3.49, .916) made 43 saves to earn the victory in that contest. The Eskimos are off this week and only have two regular-season games left on their schedule — the fewest of any team in the NOJHL.

6. (5-1) Cochrane Crunch (27-18-0-2) — Cody Gratton (44, 52-35-87, 38) scored his league-leading 52nd goal of the season in Cochrane’s 4-2 home-ice loss to the Wildcats Thursday night. Unfortunately for the Crunch, Gratton picked up a match penalty for spearing at the end of the first period and he has been suspended for six games. Things went from bad to worse for the Crunch the following night, as they dropped a 7-3 decision to their Highway 11 rivals from Iroquois Falls. Jason Berube (47, 13-16-29, 32) picked up a pair of assists in that loss to the Abitibi Eskimos. This week won’t be any easier for the Gratton-less Crunch, as they travel to Sudbury for a game with the Nickel Barons Wednesday night, then return home to host the Gold Miners in the first half of a home-and-home series Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre. The second half of the series will be played Saturday night in Kirkland Lake.

7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (15-24-0-8) — The Voodoos suffered three more losses this past week to run their losing streak to five games. Steve Harland (47, 42-44-86, 8) and Kyle Moore (42, 21-33-54, 53) each had a goal and an assist in the Voodoos 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks in Mattawa Wednesday night. Harland also had a goal in the first of the Voodoos’s two losses to the Soo, a 5-2 setback. Brendan D’Agostino (47, 16-35-51, 8) had the lone goal in their 6-1 loss in the second game against the Thunderbirds. The Voodoos will host the Beavers at the Powassan Sportsplex Friday night and the Wildcats Saturday night.

8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (11-32-0-4) — Marco Luciani (30, 6-7-13, 8) scored a pair of goals in the Blackhawks 4-3 win over the Voodoos Wednesday night. Goalie Joe Horner (922:34, 0, 5.98, .857) finally get a chance to play a little more often made 44 saves in the victory. David Osborne (15, 7-0-7, 16) scored a pair of goals in Friday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Nickel Barons. Horner had an even more amazing 59 stops in that loss. The Blackhawks lone game this week will see them host the Beavers at the Noelville Arena Saturday night.

9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-46-0-1) — Chris Hrbec (35, 2-15-17, 69) had a pair of assists in the Beavers 9-2 home-ice loss to the Nickel Barons on Sunday — their lone game of the week. Chris Ordoobadi (37, 11-7-18, 41) and Nathan Johnson (44, 10-14-24, 33) had the Blind River goals. The Beavers have three chances to collect their first win of the 2014-15 campaign this week. They host the Thunderbirds at the Blind River Community Centre on Wednesday, travel to Powassan to play the Voodoos on Friday and then Mattawa to play the Blackhawks on Saturday.

Following is a list of leaders in the NOJHL this week:

• Points — Gratton, Crunch; Clouthier, Eskimos 87.

• Goals — Gratton, Crunch, 52.

• Assists —Clouthier, Eskimos, 48.

• Power-play goals — Shane Woolsey, Wildcats, 13.

• Short-handed goals — Gratton, Crunch, 11.

• Game-winning goals — Gratton, Crunch, 11.

• Goals against average — Josh Erickson, Gold Miners, 2.25.

• Saves percentage — Erickson, Gold Miners, .921.

• Shutouts — Smith, Wildcats, 3.

• Wins — Erickson, Gold Miners, 21.

• Minutes played — Joe Sheppard, Blackhawks, 1938:30.

• Saves — Sheppard, Blackhawks 1,298.