TIMMINS - The top two scorers in the NOJHL — Cochrane Crunch forward Cody Gratton (40, 49-33-82, 33) and Abitibi Eskimos forward Brady Clouthier (37, 36-36-72, 53) — have a lot in common.
Most notable is the fact they’ve both produced nine-point games this season in which they scored six goals and added three assists.
Gratton turned the trick this past Saturday night, adding to the frustration of Beavers fans during a 9-2 bombing of the winless home side in Blind River.
Clouthier’s offensive explosion came on home ice against the visiting Powassan Voodoos on Dec. 13.
They are similar in stature, with Gratton standing 5-8 and weighing in at 175 pounds, while Clouthier is slightly taller at 5-10 but a little lighter at 170 pounds.
Despite not being the biggest players on their teams, neither Gratton (33 minutes) nor Clouthier (53 minutes) is a stranger to the penalty box.
Prior to joining their respective NOJHL franchises, both Gratton (Cambridge Winterhawks) and Clouthier (Brampton Bombers) excelled in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Both players are 20 years old and in their final seasons on junior hockey.
Who is the better player and which would I rather have if I was putting together a junior hockey franchise from scratch? That’s a debate I will leave for another day.
There is a change at the top of my Top 9 NOJHL power rankings for this week, as the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners have inched ahead of the Soo Thunderbirds.
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. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (30-6-2-2) — The Gold Miners got goals from five different players — Zach Pease (22, 9-13-22, 14), Bryan Lubin (8, 3-8-11, 10), Charles Bruneau-Crete (39, 11-7-18, 19), defenceman Jeremy Picard-Fiset (40, 5-38-43, 26) and defenceman Dylan Rosen (39, 6-17-23, 42) — en route to a 5-2 win over the visiting Mattawa Blackhawks in their lone game of the week. After playing the Abitibi Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Tuesday night, the Gold Miners return home to host the West Division-leading Soo Thunderbirds at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night and the Eskimos on Saturday night.
2. (2-2) Soo Thunderbirds (28-5-1-5) — The Thunderbirds lone game of the week saw them drop a 5-2 decision to the visiting Cochrane Crunch on Thursday night. Anthony Miller (35, 18-17-35, 44) and Brett Jeffries (39, 11-18-29, 17) had the lone goals for the Soo. The normally stellar Mario Culina (1322:02, 1, 2.36, .911) was not at his sharpest, stopping just 24 of the 28 shots the Crunch fired his way (the fifth goal was scored into an empty net). The Thunderbirds will be on the road for all three of their games this week, as they make stops in Kirkland Lake to play the Gold Miners Friday night, Cochrane to play the Crunch Saturday night and Iroquois Falls to play the Eskimos Sunday afternoon. How well they do on that trip will have a big impact on whether the Thunderbirds can reclaim top spot in our weekly rankings, or if they will fall even further.
3. (3-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (28-9-2-1) — You would be hard pressed to find a hotter team in the NOJHL right now than the Wildcats, who were winners of all three games they played this past week. Elliot Lake has seven wins and a tie in its past eight games. Shane Woolsey (38, 19-22-41, 16) had two goals and an assist in their 6-5 win over the Beavers in Blind River Wednesday night. Former Crunch forward Aaron Carmichael (36, 7-19-26, 22), Jason Wilson (39, 10-9-19, 38), Connor Scott (7, 2-5-7, 4) and Nate Sepeda (34, 7-12-19, 22) each had three points as the Wildcats crushed the Crunch 9-1 Friday night. Sepeda had the game-winning goal as the Wildcats edged the Sudbury Nickel Barons 3-2 in overtime on Sunday. Defenceman Nathan Campbell (40, 16-25-41, 38) had a goal and an assist in that game. The Wildcats will travel to Sudbury for a game with the Nickel Barons Wednesday night, return home to host the Beavers at the Centennial Arena on Friday night and then travel to Blind River for a rematch with them on Sunday afternoon.
4. (6-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (22-11-1-3) — The Nickel Barons have been playing some pretty good hockey of their own, picking up a win and an overtime loss this past week. Christopher Rossi (36, 11-20-31, 0) and Dylan Callaghan (34, 12-7-19, 65) each had a pair of goals as the Nickel Barons came from behind to defeat the Abitibi Eskimos 8-5 on home ice Wednesday night. August Jarecki (33, 11-23-34, 31) and big defenceman Ned Simpson (34, 1-15-16, 56) each had three points in that contest. Rossi and Callaghan had the Nickel Barons’ goals in Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Wildcats. The week ahead will see the Nickel Barons host the Wildcats at the McClelland Arena Wednesday night, travel to Powassan to take on the Voodoos Friday night and then to Blind River for a game with the Beavers on Saturday night.
5. (4-1) Cochrane Crunch (25-15-0-2) — The Crunch took a roller coaster ride through the NOJHL’s West Division this past week, beating the Thunderbirds 5-2 in Sault Ste. Marie Thursday night, getting crushed 9-1 by the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Friday night and then bombing the Beavers 9-2 in Blind River Saturday night. Aviv Milner (39, 14-34-48, 26) had a pair of goals in Thursday’s win over the Thunderbirds. Brett Young (831:38, 0, 3.90, .904) was sharp in net, making 24 saves in the win. Dustin Cordeiro (36, 37-17-54, 38) had the lone Crunch goal in Friday night’s loss to the Wildcats. Gratton, of course, had nine points in Cochrane’s 9-2 win over the Beavers on Saturday night. Milner added five assists in that game, while Henry Berger (20, 9-13-22, 22) had two goals and two assists. The week ahead will see the Crunch travel to Mattawa for a game with the Blackhawks Friday night and then return home to host the Thunderbirds at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Saturday night.
6. (5-4) Abitibi Eskimos (22-18-0-3) — After splitting a pair of games this past week, the Eskimos have five wins in their past seven games. That record would be even more impressive if they had not blown a third-period lead during an 8-5 loss to the Nickel Barons in Sudbury. Linemates Brenden Locke (37, 30-30-60, 19) and Kevin Walker (37, 6-16-22, 51) each had three points in that game. Tristan Salesse (24, 13-25-38, 14) chipped in with a pair of goals. Locke had the game winner on Friday night as the Eskimos beat the Mattawa Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime in Timmins. The win gives the Eskimos a record of 4-0-0-0 on the season in Timmins, with one more game to go in the series. The third member of the line, Brennan Roy (43, 22-33-55, 60), had two goals in the victory. The Eskimos host the Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena Tuesday night, then travel to Kirkland Lake for a rematch on Saturday night, before return home to host the Soo Thunderbirds Sunday afternoon.
7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (12-19-0-7) — The Voodoos, who have struggled in the new year, had the week off to hopefully regroup and get back on track. If all the Powassan players were as consistent as leading scorer Steve Harland (38, 33-34-67, 6) the Voodoos might find themselves a little higher in the standings. The week ahead will see them host the Mattawa Blackhawks at the Powassan Sportsplex on Wednesday night and the Sudbury Nickel Barons on Friday night. They will then travel to Mattawa for a game with the Blackhawks on Saturday night and then host them again at the Powassan Sportsplex on Monday night (technically part of the following week.
8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (9-26-0-3) — The Blackhawks have been playing much better hockey of late, but they were only able to get one point during a two-game swing north. Andy Williams (37, 15-20-35, 31) and Tyler Broderson (38, 15-20-35, 18) each had a pair of assists in the Blackhawks 4-3 overtime loss to the Abitibi Eskimos in Timmins Friday night. Joe Sheppard (1656:18, 0, 5.94, .873) made 28 saves, but did not look as sharp as he has in past games. Justin St. Germaine (8, 1-0-1, 8) and C.J. Nicholson (36, 13-14-27, 42) each had a goal in the Blackhawks 5-2 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Saturday night. A busy week for the Blackhawks will see them travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Wednesday night, return home to host the Cochrane Crunch at the Mike Rodden Arena Friday night and the Voodoos Saturday night and then travel bag to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Monday night.
9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-40-0-1) — The Beavers suffered two more losses this week, leaving Blind River fans to wonder if they will ever win a hockey game. After spotting the Elliot Lake Wildcats a 6-1 lead Wednesday night, the Beavers did storm back with four unanswered goals to fall one goal short of tying the game up. Nathan Hans (40, 9-9-18, 42) had two goals for the home side in that contest, while Robin Yew (8, 2-3-5, 13) had a goal and an assist and Austin Lamont (29, 5-8-13, 14) a pair of assists. There was no comeback Saturday night, however, as the Cochrane Crunch bombed the Beavers 9-2. Yew and Nathan Johnson (38, 9-14-23, 31) had the Beavers goals in that contest. The Beavers quest for their first victory of 2014-15 will take them to Elliot Lake for a game with the Wildcats on Friday night, before they return home to host the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night and the Wildcats on Sunday afternoon.