TIMMINS - The Soo Thunderbirds, or Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, which team deserves to sit atop Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings this week?
It is safe to say a good argument can be made for either team holding down top spot.
Both teams have accumulated 28 points, tops in the NOJHL.
The Thunderbirds have a game in hand on the Gold Miners, having played 16 games to their rivals’ 17.
The Gold Miners have a better goals-for and goals-against differential, 101-38 compared to 89-41.
The Gold Miners also have a better record within their own division (10-1-0-0 in the East) than the Thunderbirds (9-2-0-0 in the West).
The Thunderbirds won the only meeting between the two sides so far this season, a 7-1 decision at the John Rhodes Arena back on Oct. 5.
How did the two squads fre this past week?
The Thunderbirds beat the Blind River Beavers 7-2, while the Gold Miners defeated the Powassan Voodoos 8-1.
It doesn’t get any closer than that, does it?
We might have a better indication of which is the better team after this Sunday’s meeting of the two squads at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake.
Until then, the Thunderbirds remain No. 1 in Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings, with the Gold Miners a close second.
Following are the complete rankings after nine weeks of action. 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 (14-2-0-0) — Nathan Hebert (16, 6-10-16, 0) and Jaren Bellini (16, 11-10-21, 4) each netted a pair of goals, as the Thunderbirds dumped the still winless Beavers 7-2 in Blind River Saturday night, to run their winning streak to 12 games. The trio of Bellini, Nicolas Tassone (15, 13-15-28, 2) and Nicolas Sicoly (16, 11-11-22, 10) is one of the most exciting groups of young forwards in the NOJHL. Toss in Anthony Miller (14, 7-8-15, 10), Joey Miller (13, 5-10-15, 17), Matt Pinder (12, 7-7-14, 6) and Eric Hillock (14, 5-5-10, 4) and it is easy to see why teams have so much difficulty shutting down the Thunderbirds’ attack. And goalies Mario Culina (470:11, 2.30, .922) and Brian Kment (512:37, 2.69, .906) don’t usually need much offensive support to earn a victory. Transactions: None. A busy week ahead will see the Thunderbirds visit the Nickel Barons in Sudbury Wednesday night, the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night, the Abitibi Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Saturday night and finally the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Sunday afternoon. If their win streak is intact after that swing, there will be no question which team deserves the top ranking next week.
2. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (14-3-0-0) — Connor Thie (10, 6-11-17, 8) scored three goals to lead the Gold Miners to a 8-1 win against the Voodoos on home ice Friday night. Steven Babin (17, 10-24-34, 10) had three helpers in that game to help him maintain his lead in the NOJHL scoring race. They are just two of the nine Gold Miners who are averaging more than a point a game. The others include Luc Soares (17, 13-10-23, 14), Tristen Hazlett (16, 10-12-22, 8), Jeremy Picard-Fiset (17, 2-18-20, 10), Jeremy Dumont (15, 9-10-19, 4), Ryan Swain (17, 8-10-18, 12), Timmins native Tyler Romain (17, 7-11-18, 7) and Ryan Aubertin (3, 2-4-6, 0). The Gold Miners finally gave Josh Erickson (300:00, 2.00, .929) a night off, with Timmins native Devon Debastos (438:17, 2.05, .914 getting the start against the Voodoos. Transactions: Patrick Picard traded to the Abitibi Eskimos. Prior to their showdown with the Thunderbirds Sunday afternoon, the Gold Miners will host the Elliot Lake Wildcats Saturday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.
3. (4-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (11-4-0-0) — Defenceman Nathan Campbell (15, 8-9-17, 20) scored a pair of goals and Cole Hepler (15, 10-15-25, 6) scored a goal and added three assists to lead Wildcats to a 6-1 win over the Sudbury Nickel Barons in their lone game of the week. Spencer MacLean (15, 10-13-23, 10), Adam Baxter (11, 6-15-21, 6), Shane Woolsey (14, 6-12-18, 6) and Alec MacKenzie (14, 4-13-17, 12) are also averaging more than a point a game this season, providing consistent offence to the Wildcats game in and game out. A.J. Smith (542:30, 2.99, .908) was in net for the win over the Nickel Barons and played well. Smith has teamed with Allan Menary (302:23, 2.98, .898) to give Elliot Lake solid goaltending. Transactions: Nicholas Legault acquired from Smiths Falls Bears (CCHL). Like the Thunderbirds, the Wildcats will face a tough test on the road this week as they travel to Cochrane for a game with the Crunch Thursday night, to Timmins for a game with the Eskimos Friday night and to Kirkland Lake for a game with the Wildcats Saturday night.
3. (3-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (11-4-0-2) — Defenceman Kyle Fransen (15, 3-10-1, 6) had the lone goal for the Nickel Barons in their 6-1 loss to the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Saturday night. The Nickel Barons had been scheduled to host the Beavers Wednesday night, but that game was postponed due to a highway closure. Sudbury has just three players — Jacob Bonin (16, 5-12-17, 6), August Jarecki (16, 4-12-16, 19) and Khadyn Butterfly (12, 6-6-12, 38) — who are averaging at least a point a game this season. That fact makes the Nickel Barons record even more amazing and proves that coach Jason Young’s defence-first approach can win hockey games. Jessie Morin (506:24, 3.08, .912) and Kevin Labelle (534:09, 3.59, .910) have teamed up to give the Nickel Barons solid goaltending so far this season. Transactions: None. The Nickel Barons will host the Thunderbirds Wednesday night at the McClelland Arena and then travel to Blind River on Saturday for a game against the Beavers.
5. (5-1) Cochrane Crunch (10-6-0-0) — Aviv Milner (16, 6-19-25, 6) and Dustin Cordeiro (16, 22-9-31, 16) each scored three goals and added a pair of assists to lead the Crunch to a 16-1 win over the Mattawa Blackhawks Sunday afternoon. When it comes to players averaging more than a point a game, the Crunch can also roll out Cody Gratton (17, 19-12-31, 12), Josh Racek (17, 6-17-23, 10), Jason Berube (17, 9-10-19, 14), Daniel Stagg (5, 3-3-6, 2) and Ian Skinner (2, 2-2-4, 0). Goalie Ben Auger (85:04, 3.53, .889) looked a little bit more like himself in beating the Blackhawks Sunday afternoon. The Crunch are counting on Auger teaming with fellow 17-year-old Troy Paquette (560:28, 3.21, .897) to give the team solid goaltending this season. Transactions: Jake Ellingson acquired from Weyburn Red Wings (SJHL); Marco Luciani traded to the Mattawa Blackhawks. A busy week began for the Crunch in Powassan Monday night and will continue at the Tim Horton Event Centre Thursday (Wildcats) and Friday (Thunderbirds), before they head back out on the road to play the Blackhawks in Mattawa Sunday afternoon.
6. (6-4) Abitibi Eskimos (9-7-0-2) — Brady Clouthier (18, 14-13-27, 23) and Brenden Locke (16, 13-10-23, 7) each scored twice to lead the Eskimos to a 7-0 win over the Blackhawks Saturday night. Chet Tooker (699:24, 3.95, .887) recorded his first shutout in an Eskimos’ uniform, as the team ended its four-game losing streak. Brennan Roy (18, 9-12-21, 26), who is currently the NOJHL’s highest-scoring defencemen, had a goal and a pair of assists in that game. In the wake of his team’s recent four-game losing streak, coach and general manager Paul Gagne has vowed to add toughness to the Eskimos’ lineup. Step 1 of that transformation saw the arrival of Shawn Nobes (1, 0-0-0, 6) from the Cole Harbour Colts, of the NSJHL. Step 2 saw the Eskimos swing a four-player trade with the Fort Frances Lakers, of the SIJHL. Jake Holland (15, 5-6-11, 20), one of the three players the Eskimos added in that deal will add to the element of toughness Nobes added to the squad. Transactions: Nobes acquired from Cole Harbour Colts, of the NSJHL; Holland, forward Tristan Salesse (10, 0-3-3, 2) and defenceman Ryan Reeves (7, 0-0-0, 6) acquired from Fort Frances Lakers, of the SIJHL; defenceman Nick Minerva traded to Fort Frances Lakers, of the SIJHL. The Eskimos will host the Wildcats at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex in Timmins Friday night and the Thunderbirds at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Saturday night.
7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (3-10-0-2) — Nolan Smith (9, 2-2-4 , 15) had the lone goal for the Voodoos in their 8-1 loss in Kirkland Lake Friday night — their only game of the week. Neither Matt Young (537:27, 2.90, .918), nor Jack Ondrovic (308:12, 4.48, .880) looked particularly sharp in net against a very good Gold Miners offence. Speaking of offence, it continues to be one of the Voodoos’ most significant shortcomings, as Steve Harland (15, 8-7-15, 0) is the only regular averaging at least a point a game. And Nathaniel McLeod (8, 6-1-7, 10) is the only other Powassan player with more than five goals this season. Transactions: None. After entertaining the Crunch at the Powassan Sportsplex on Monday, the Voodoos play a home-and-home series with the Blackhawks, Friday night in Powassan and Saturday night in Mattawa.
8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (2-14-0-1) — It would be hard to imagine the Blackhawks’ two-game road trip going any worse than it did. During stops in Iroquois Falls Saturday night and Cochrane Sunday afternoon, the Blackhawks were outscored 23-1. It isn’t often a goalie surrenders 18 goals in back-to-back games and is his team’s top player, but you would be hard pressed to find a better Blackhawk than Joe Sheppard (758:58, 7.04, .853) in either of his team’s losses this weekend. Sheppard made 96 saves in those two games, despite getting to sit the final 11:06 of the game in Cochrane Sunday. Backup Josh Horner (270:33, 9.09, .778) stopped six of the 11 shots the Crunch sent his way in the final 11:06 of the game. It really would be interesting to see how Sheppard would fare with a good team playing in front of him. After the Blackhawks’ game against the Eskimos Saturday night, coach Aaron Cordier said it was “gut check time” for his squad. Not sure what he was saying after Sunday afternoon. Transactions: Marco Luciani acquired from Cochrane Crunch. The Blackhawks travel to Powassan for the first game of a home-and-home series against the Voodoos Friday night, then host the Voodoos at the Mike Rodden Arena Saturday night and then the Crunch on Sunday afternoon.
9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-17-0-1) — After their road trip to Sudbury was postponed on Wednesday because of a highway closure, the Beavers lone game of the week was a 7-2 loss to the Thunderbirds on home ice Saturday night. The Beavers spotted the Thunderbirds a 3-0 lead — never a good idea — before Jared Binguis (10, 2-0-2, 4) finally got the home side on the board. The Beavers played the game with just 12 skaters, a disadvantage against an average team let alone the powerhouse Thunderbirds. Alex Hulford (21, 14-6-20, 20) is the only real offensive threat the Beavers have and he has been held to just one assist in his past three games. If the Beavers are going to turn things around this season, they are going to have to find some offensively gifted forwards to play with Hulford. The goaltending of Daniel Potter (106:58, 5.61, .828), Nick Kazmierczak (530:26, 7.13, .832) and Zach Mills (448:33, 7.62, .844) has not been spectacular, but lack of offence remains the Beavers’ Achilles heel. Transactions: None. The Beavers search for their first win of the 2014-15 campaign will continue on Saturday night when they host the Nickel Barons at the Blind River Community Centre.
Following is a list of leaders in the NOJHL this week:
• Points — Babin, Gold Miners, 34.
• Goals — Cordeiro, Crunch, 22.
• Assists — Babin, Gold Miners, 24.
• Power-play goals — Hulford, Beavers, 9.
• Short-handed goals — Gratton, Crunch, 6.
• Game-winning goals — Swain, Gold Miners, 4.
• Goals against average — Erickson, Gold Miners, 2.00.
• Saves percentage — Erickson, Gold Miners, .929.
• Shutouts — Debastos, Gold Miners 2
• Wins — Culina, Thunderbirds, Kment, Thunderbirds, 7.
• Minutes played — Sheppard, Blackhawks, 758:58.
• Saves — Sheppard, Blackhawks, 517.