Tom’s NOJHL power rankings January 20

TIMMINS - The Blind River Beavers remain the NOJHL’s only winless team following three more losses on the weekend.

Having had an opportunity to see two of those three contests in person, it is hard to believe this squad has not been able to catch another team having a bad night at some point during the 2014-15 season.

Under new coach Angelo Gallo, the Beavers are playing an in-your-face, gritty style of hockey that makes up for the fact that they don’t have any true offensive superstars on their roster.

Against the run-and-gun Crunch, Saturday night in Cochrane, the Beavers lost 7-4 but after spotting the home side a 3-0 first-period lead, they battled back to make it a 5-4 hockey game at one point, before allowing the home side a pair of late goals.

Sunday afternoon in Iroquois Falls, Blind River was in the game through two periods, before allowing the Eskimos a pair of third-period goals in a 4-2 loss.

Blind River started its three-game road trip with a 3-1 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Friday night, the one game I did not see them play this weekend.

It is interesting to note that the Beavers never once held a lead in any of those three hockey games.

Having to play catchup hockey is never easy, especially for a team that does not have a lot of offensive punch.

The Beavers have only one player on their roster, Dante Juris (30, 10-7-17, 29), with 10 or more goals this season and seven of his goals were scored with the Powassan Voodoos before he was acquired in a trade on Jan. 7.

And they do not have any players averaging a point or more per game. Nathan Johnson (34, 8-13-21, 27) who is scoring at a rate of 0.62 points per game is the team’s best.

Despite this shortcoming, the Beavers do not play like a team sporting a 0-36-0-1 record.

The Beavers did not display any quit on the weekend and Gallo appears to have his players believing in themselves, a pretty significant accomplishment for a guy who claims he is “just here to open the doors.”

Instead of lamenting the mistakes his players made that contributed to their three most recent losses, the new coach opted — rightly or wrongly — to put the blame for the defeats on the refereeing.

Such a strategy might lighten his pocket book, but his players likely appreciate not having their errors being the focus of post-game discussions.

We’ll talk more about the Beavers later on, but following are 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. (1-2) Soo Thunderbirds (27-4-0-5) — Eric Hillock (32, 16-11-27, 8) scored twice to lead the Thunderbirds to a 6-2 win over the Nickel Barons in Sudbury Wednesday night. Forward Devin Shell (3, 0-1-1, 0), acquired from the Cambridge Winterhawks, of the GOJHL, had his first point in a Thunderbirds jersey in that game. Boris Katchouk (17, 8-10-18, 18) had two goals and an assist for the West Division-leading Thunderbirds Friday night, as they dropped a 6-5 overtime decision to the second-place Wildcats in Elliot Lake. The week ahead will see the Thunderbirds host the Powassan Voodoos at the Essar Centre Friday and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the John Rhodes Community Centre on Saturday night.

2. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (28-6-0-2) — The Gold Miners were without the services of injured forward Steven Babin (35, 20-44-64, 12), the team’s leading scorer, Friday night, but it did not matter, as they were able to score a 3-1 win over the visiting Beavers in their lone game of the week. Joel Fortin (35, 13-10-23, 4), Connor Thie (29, 21-31-52, 14) and Ryan Swain (35, 16-27-43, 38) each had a goal for the Gold Miners in the victory. Goalie Josh Erickson (1023:58, 1, 2.40, .915) made 17 saves to pick up the victory. The week ahead will see the Gold Miners make stops in Elliot Lake, Sault Ste. Marie and Blind River as they embark on a three-game road trip.

3. (3-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (24-9-1-1) — Cole Hepler (35, 21-30-51, 10) had two goals — including the game-winner in overtime — and an assist as the Wildcats defeated the West Division-leading Thunderbirds 6-5 Friday night. Defenceman Nicholas Legault (20, 1-10-11, 38) had a goal and three assists, as well. A goal by defenceman Kyle Salmon (11, 1-2-3, 6), with 2:05 remaining in the third period, allowed the Wildcats to escape Mattawa with a 4-3 regulation victory on Saturday night. Alec MacKenzie (34, 9-28-37, 32) had a pair of assists against the pesky Blackhawks. The week ahead will see the Wildcats host the Gold Miners at the Centennial Arena Friday night and the Voodoos Sunday night.

4. (4-1) Cochrane Crunch (23-12-0-2) — The Crunch got goals from Jason Berube (37, 12-14-26, 22) and Dustin Cordeiro (32, 34-15-49, 29) as they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Abitibi Eskimos in Round 8 of the Battle of Highway 11. Starting goalie Brett Young (579:51, 0, 3.31, .916) was given the hook after giving up all five goals, with Ben Auger (477:34, 0, 3.52, .887) coming on to shut the door the rest of the way. The following night, during a 7-4 win over the Beavers, it was Auger getting the hook after allowing four goals and Young coming on to shut things down. Henry Berger (15, 6-10-16, 10) had two goals and two assists to pace the attack against Blind River. Cordeiro also scored twice. The week ahead will see the Crunch host the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night and then travel to Iroquois Falls for Round 9 of the Battle of Highway 11 against the Eskimos on Saturday night.

5. (6-4) Abitibi Eskimos (20-17-0-3) — Goalie Logan Ferrington (380:00, 0, 3.63, .907) made 56 saves as the Eskimos defeated the Crunch 5-2 Friday night in Round 8 of the Battle of Highway 11. That win, combined with a 4-2 victory over the Beavers on Sunday afternoon, was enough to vault the Eskimos into fifth place in this week’s rankings. The line of Brady Clouthier (34, 33-34-67, 43), Tristan Salesse (21, 11-21-32, 12) and Jake Holland (22, 15-28-43, 22) combined for nine points against the Crunch. Clouthier, Brenden Locke (34, 27-23-50, 19) and Brennan Roy (40, 17-29-46, 56) each had a goal and an assist against the Beavers Sunday afternoon. The Eskimos lone game this week will see them host the Crunch at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night in Round 9 of the Battle of Highway 11.

6. (5-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (19-11-1-2) — Jacob Bonin (28, 10-19-29, 8) and defenceman Kyle Fransen (31, 5-20-25, 14) had the Nickel Barons’ only goals in their 6-2 home ice loss to the Thunderbirds on Wednesday night. The loss was the third in the past four games for the Nickel Barons, who have also tasted defeat in five of their past seven games. Goalie Jessie Morin (925:41, 0, 3.44, .903) made 30 saves in the most recent loss. The week ahead will see the Nickel Barons host the Voodoos at the McClelland Arena Wednesday night and then travel to Cochrane for a game with the Crunch on Friday night.

7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (11-17-0-6) — The slumping Voodoos outshot the Blackhawks 44-30 in Mattawa Sunday afternoon, but dropped an 8-6 decision. That is their fifth-straight loss in 2015 and their seventh-straight, over all, with only one of the setbacks coming in overtime. Tyler Gervais-Rolfe (32, 7-9-16, 21) had a goal and two assists in the Voodoos’ most recent loss. Both Jack Ondrovic (723:34 4, 0, 5.47, .845) and Matt Young (1220:32, 2, 3.74, .899 ) struggled in goal against the Blackhawks. A busy week ahead will see the Voodoos touch down in Sudbury on Wednesday night, Sault Ste. Marie on Friday night, Blind River on Saturday night and Elliot Lake on Sunday night.

8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (9-25-0-2) — The suddenly hot Blackhawks have closed to within eight points of the ice-cold Voodoos in the East Division standings, although Powassan does have two games in hand. The gap could have been even less if Mattawa had been able to hold off the Wildcats Saturday night. Defenceman Nick Grose (36, 4-25-29, 26), who has been even hotter than his team of late, had a goal and two assists in the Blackhawks 4-3 loss to the Wildcats. Joe Sheppard (1531:56, 0, 6.07, .873) made 42 saves against Elliot Lake. Jimmy Philbin (35, 12-17-29, 8) scored three goals to lead Mattawa past Powassan Sunday afternoon. Tyler Brodersen (36, 15-18-33, 18) and David Osborne (4, 3-0-3, 6) each had two goals in the victory. The Blackhawks don’t have any games scheduled this week, as they prepare to hit the road the following weekend.

9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-36-0-1) — Regan Yew (11, 3-7-10, 12) had the Beavers lone goal in their 3-1 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Friday night. Zach Mills (1039:59, 0, 6.58, .859) was solid in net and made 28 saves for the Beavers. Chris Ordoobadi (27, 6-5-11, 37) had a pair of goals for Blind River in their 7-4 loss to the Crunch in Cochrane Saturday night. Juris had a goal and an assists in Sunday afternoon’s 4-2 loss to the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls. The week ahead will see the Beavers host the Voodoos at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night and the Gold Miners on Sunday afternoon.