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Tom’s NOJHL power rankings March 3

TIMMINS - The old saying suggests: “You can’t win them all.”

In the case of the Blind River Beavers, we might have to amend that to read: “You can’t win any of them.”

With just two games remaining in the regular season and the team sporting a record of 0-49-0-1 chances of the Beavers being able to win a game this year appear to range somewhere between slim and none.

The Beavers final home game will come on Saturday night when they host the NOJHL-leading Soo Thunderbirds at the Blind River Community Centre.

They will then conclude their regular season with a road game in Sudbury against the Nickel Barons — who are third in the East Division standings and fourth overall in the NOJHL.

In case you were wondering, the only blemish on the Beavers chances of finishing 0-52-0-0 this season was a 4-3 overtime loss to the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie back on Oct. 8.

Blind River actually had a 3-1 lead until late in the second period of that game.

Getting back to the lead of this column, it is actually in reference to how even some of the better teams in the NOJHL have struggled at times this season, not so much about the fate of the sub-cellar dwelling Beavers.

You need look no farther than the Cochrane Crunch, currently tied for second place in the NOJHL’s East Division, for proof of that opening statement.

Take a quick glance at the standings and you might think all is right with the Crunch, who sport a record of 27-21-0-2.

Look closer, however, and you will find a team that has lost five-straight games, six of its past seven games and since the middle of December has only managed to compile a record of 10-13-0-0.

The Crunch have been missing their offensive superstar Cody Gratton (44, 52-35-87, 38) for the past four games because of the six-game suspension he picked up after being assessed a match penalty for spearing on Feb. 19 against the Elliot Lake Wildcats, but that does not explain the team’s struggles in those earlier games.

Josh Racek (45, 19-35-54, 29), another offensive force for the Crunch, has struggled since coming back from the injury list and looks lost without Gratton on his wing.

Even the NOJHL’s top squads have struggled at times this season.

The Soo Thunderbirds have not lost more than two games in a row, but between Jan. 16 and Jan. 29 they had a stretch of four games that saw them win only once — although they did have a tie and an overtime loss in that span.

Between Feb. 3 and Feb. 10 the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners had a stretch that saw them lose three out of four games.

Even the Elliot Lake Wildcats, perhaps the hottest team in the NOJHL right now, went through a stretch between Nov. 6 and Nov. 21that saw them lose twice in regulation, once in overtime and earn a tie in four games.

So, perhaps the most interesting part of this final week of NOJHL regular-season play will be finding out if the Cochrane Crunch can snap their losing skid and if the Blind River Beavers can find the victory column — at least once.

While we wait to learn the answers to those two questions, let’s take a look at 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 (37-6-1-5) — The Thunderbirds won both of their starts this week and in the process clinched first place in the NOJHL’s West Division. They have also clinched at least a tie for top spot overall in the NOJHL. Jaren Bellini (46, 31-27-58, 10) had three goals and three assists to lead the Thunderbirds to a 10-0 win over the Beavers in Blind River on Wednesday night. Boris Katchouk (29, 18-27-45, 18) added a goal and four assists, while Brett Jeffries (49, 18-21-39, 23) had two goals and an assist. Mario Culina (1622:02, 3, 2.18, .913) stopped all 16 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season. Things were a little tighter Saturday night, as the Thunderbirds edged the Sudbury Nickel Barons 5-4 on home ice. Joey Miller (38, 14-27-41, 54) had two goals and an assist to pace the attack for the Thunderbirds, while Devin Shell (16, 3-9-12, 0) chipped in with a goal and two assists and Caleb Boman (46, 8-22-30, 34) added three assists. The final week of the NOJHL’s regular season will see the Thunderbirds travel to Sudbury for a game with the Nickel Barons on Wednesday night, return home to the John Rhodes Community Centre to host the Elliot Lake Wildcats on Friday night and then travel to Blind River to meet the Beavers Saturday night.

2. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (36-10-2-2) — As mentioned above, the Gold Miners shut out the Cochrane Crunch on both ends of their home-and-home series this past weekend, winning 1-0 in Cochrane Friday night and 5-0 back home in Kirkland Lake Saturday night. The Gold Miners have clinched first place in the East Division and have an outside shot of tying the Thunderbirds for first overall in the NOJHL —if they win both of their remaining game and the Soo loses all three of its. Josh Erickson (1738:59, 2, 2.17, .924) stopped all 31 shots he faced Friday night to record the shutout for the Gold Miners. Jeremy Dumont (48, 25-23-48, 28) scored the game’s lone goal in the first period. Dumont had two goals and an assist in the 5-0 win Saturday night, while Zach Pease (32, 14-18-32, 16) chipped in with a goal and two assists. Devon Debastos (1011:53, 3, 2.73, .890) recorded his third shutout of the season, tying him with Cullina and A.J. Smith , of the Elliot Lake Wildcats, for the NOJHL lead in that category. The Gold Miners will close out their regular season by hosting the Powassan Voodoos at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night and the Sudbury Nickel Barons Saturday night.

3. (3-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (36-11-2-1) — The Wildcats added another pair of victories to their win column this past week, beating the Sudbury Nickel Barons 4-2 on home ice Friday night and the Voodoos 5-3 in Powassan Saturday night. Spencer MacLean (48, 29-37-66, 24) had a pair of goals to pace the attack against the Nickel Barons, while the Wildcats leading scorer, Cole Hepler (50, 27-42-69, 10), added three assists. Adam Baxter (46, 23-43-66, 26) scored a pair of goals in the victory over the Voodoos, while Connor Scott (17, 7-12-19, 16) had a goal and two assists. The Wildcats will host the Mattawa Blackhawks at the Centennial Arena Wednesday night and then travel to Sault Ste. Marie to close out their regular season with a game against the Thunderbirds Friday night.

4. (4-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (29-15-1-3) — After beating the Crunch 3-1 on home ice Wednesday night, the Nickel Barons dropped a 4-2 decision to the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Friday night and suffered a 5-4 setback in Sault Ste. Marie Saturday night. Kevin Labelle (1664:54, 0, 3.17, .911) made 37 saves to backstop the Nickel Barons to their 3-1 win over the Crunch. Jacob Bonin (35, 12-24-36, 8) had a pair of assists to key the offence. Bonin and Brett Whitehead (48, 2-11-13, 32) had the Sudbury goals in Friday night’s loss in Elliot Lake. Jimmy Roy (32, 15-11-26, 34) and Kyle Fransen (44, 8-32-40, 22) each had a goal and an assist in Saturday night’s 5-4 loss to the Thunderbirds. The Nickel Barons will be busy during the final week of the regular season, as they host the Thunderbirds at the McClelland Arena Wednesday night, travel to Timmins for a game with the Abitibi Eskimos Friday night, then on visit the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Saturday night, before returning home to host the Blind River Beavers at the McClelland Arena on Monday night.

5. (5-4) Abitibi Eskimos (26-20-0-4) — The Eskimos were idle this past week, while their Highway 11 rivals, the Cochrane Crunch, were playing the three games in hand they had on Abitibi. Cochrane’s continued struggles leave the two teams still tied for second place in the East Division, although the Crunch have one more victory than the Eskimos — which would be the first tie breaker. The Eskimos will be at home for their final two regular-season games, although in different arenas. Friday night the Eskimos will host the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex in Timmins. It will be the last of five games in Timmins this season for the Eskimos, who won the first four. It will also be the first since it was announced the team is moving to Timmins for the 2015-16 season. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd they get for this game. The Eskimos will then host the Mattawa Blackhawks in their final regular-season game at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls. That should also be an emotional game — for the team and the fans.

6. (5-1) Cochrane Crunch (27-18-0-2) — The highlight of the week for the Crunch was the play of goalie Brett Young (1258:05, 0, 3.67, .909) in Friday night’s 1-0 loss on home ice against the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners. Jason Berube (50, 14-16-30, 34) had the only goal for the Crunch in Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Nickel Barons in Sudbury. There were few, if any highlights, in the 5-0 loss the Crunch suffered at the hands of the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Saturday night. The good news for the Crunch and their fans is that home ice for their opening round playoff series against the Abitibi Eskimos is there for the taking. All the Crunch have to do is earn the same number of points as their Highway 11 rivals and they will open at the Tim Horton Event Centre. And given that they have not lost to either of the two teams they are playing that should be a piece of cake, shouldn’t it? The Crunch will host the Mattawa Blackhawks at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night and then travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Saturday night.

7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (15-24-0-8) — Jake Staples (17, 10-11-21, 4) had five assists in the Voodoos 9-3 win over the Blind River Beavers on home ice Friday night, while Steve Harland (49, 42-48-90, 8), the NOJHL’s leading scorer, had four assists. David Sherman (15, 11-11-22, 10) had two goals and two assists in that game and Michael Silveri (42, 14-23-37, 21) and Kyle Moore (44, 23-35-58, 53) each had two goals and an assist. Sherman had a goal and an assist in the Voodoos 5-3 loss to the Elliot Lake Wildcats Saturday night. After hosting the Mattawa Blackhawks Monday night at the Powassan Sportsplex, the Voodoos travel to Kirkland Lake for a game with the Wildcats on Friday night and then return home to host the Crunch on Saturday night.

8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (11-32-0-4) — Tanner Bowditch (38, 13-16-29, 31) and Reed Gregory (48, 13-12-25, 14) each had two goals and an assist as the Blackhawks defeated the Blind River Beavers 5-3 in their only game of the past week. Tyler Broderson (47, 19-26-45, 24) added three assists in that game. Josh Horner (982:34, 0, 5.74, .862) had 38 saves to backstop Mattawa to the victory. The Blackhawns end the regular season with four-straight road games, Monday night against the Voodoos in Powassan, Wednesday night against the Wildcats in Elliot Lake, Friday night against the Crunch in Cochrane and Saturday night in Iroquois Falls, against the Abitibi Eskimos.

9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-46-0-1) — Three more games, three more losses — two of them blowouts — for the Beavers. On the bright side, they scored five goals in those three losses, while the Crunch could only must one in their three. There were few, if any highlights for the Beavers in their 10-0 loss to the Soo Thunderbirds Wednesday night. Braddock Baalerud (784:35, 0, 5.89, .872) made 48 saves in a losing cause and only gave up six of the 10 goals. Nathan Hans (48, 12-13-25, 52) had a goal and an assist for the Beavers in their 9-3 loss to the Powassan Voodoos Friday night. Alex Kidd (37, 0-4-4, 39) and Chris Ordoobadi (40, 12-9-21, 41) each had a pair of assists in that game. Ordoobadi and Chris Hrabec (38, 3-15-18, 71) had the goals for Blind River in their 5-2 loss to the Mattawa Blackhawks on Saturday night. As mentioned above, the Beavers will host the Soo Thunderbirds at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night and then travel to Sudbury for a game with the Nickel Barons on Monday night.