TIMMINS - It is interesting to note that there was no reduction in the quality of play this week in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League even though 20 of its top players were away from their club teams and participating in the Central Canada Cup Challenge in Toronto.
Even more impressive was the fact that Team NOJHL made it all the way to the semifinals before being eliminated by Team OJHL Oates, who went on to win the tournament.
There were not a lot of surprises around the NOJHL this week, although the Nickel Barons and the visiting Elliot Lake Wildcats did play to the league’s first tie of the 2014-15 campaign, a 1-1 draw at the McClelland Arena in Sudbury.
Also of note, the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners suffered their first regular-season loss at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex since Feb. 7, 2014, when the Crunch beat them 6-5 in overtime Friday night.
The Gold Miners blew a 4-0 first-period lead but retook the lead at 5-4 before letting the Crunch tie it up late in the third period to force overtime.
In case you were wondering, it was the Crunch — then known as the Elliot Lake Bobcats — who edged the Gold Miners 4-3 on that February night, also in overtime, on a Jacob Erwin goal.
You have to go all the way back to Jan. 3, 2014, to find the Gold Miners last regular-season regulation loss on home ice.
The Soo Thunderbirds scored a 1-0 victory over their hosts on that night, with defenceman Tyler Jones scoring the game’s only goal midway through the third period.
With such an impressive home record, you would think the Gold Miners would be averaging more than 419 fans a game.
For the record, that figure ranks the Gold Miners fourth in attendance so far this season.
The Abitibi Eskimos (573) are leading the NOJHL in average attendance, for their games played at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls and the Archie Dillon Sportsplex and the McIntyre Arena in Timmins.
The Cochrane Crunch, in their first season at the Tim Hortons Event Centre in Cochrane, and the Wildcats, the team that replaced them in Elliot Lake, are tied for second, with average attendance of 556.
Given their record, it is not surprising to note that the Blind River Beavers have the lowest average attendance in the NOJHL — just 200 fans.
Surprisingly, however, the second- and third-worst attendance records belong to the Nickel Barons (211) and the Thunderbirds (216) respectively.
I have one more Elliot Lake-Cochrane connection before we get on to this week’s rankings.
Elliot Lake’s current team and their former team completed their first trade this week when the Wildcats shipped defenceman Brandon Janveau to the Crunch in exchange for forward Aaron Carmichael.
Without further ado, here are Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings (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 (16-2-0-2) — The Thunderbirds did not see any action this week, since their Friday night game against Blind River was postponed, which is probably a good thing give that the team had five players, its general manager, its head coach and an assistant coach away with Team NOJHL at the Central Canada Cup Challenge in Toronto. Transactions: None. The Thunderbirds will face a couple of tough division opponents on the road this week, as they travel to Sudbury for a game against the Nickel Barons Wednesday night and then visit the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Friday night.
2. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (17-3-0-1) — As documented above, the Gold Miners gained three of a possible four points during a home-and-home series with the Crunch this week, despite blowing a four-goal first-period lead Friday night. Goalie Josh Erickson (506:50, 1, 2.25, .915) returned to form Sunday while backstopping the Gold Miners to a 5-1 win in Cochrane. And newcomer Ryan Aubertin (7, 6-5-11, 0) continues to provide secondary scoring. Just as important has been the return to health of Zach Pease (4, 1-4-5, 0). Transactions: None. The week ahead will see the Gold Miners visit the Voodoos in Powassan Saturday night and the Blackhawks in Mattawa Sunday afternoon.
3. (3-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (13-4-1-2) — Jacob Bonin (19, 7-14-21, 8), the Nickel Barons leading scorer, had the team’s lone goal in their 1-1 tie with the Wildcats Wednesday night. Even more impressive was the play of goalie Kevin Labelle (672:21, 0, 3.39, .916), who turned aside 56 of the 57 shots the Wildcats fired his way. Transactions: Ned Simpson acquired from Cochrane Crunch; Joshua Moore traded to Cochrane Crunch; Cray Roberge traded to Yarmouth Mariners (MHL). The lone game for the Nickel Barons this week will see them host the Thunderbirds at the McClelland Arena on Wednesday night.
4. (4-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (12-6-1-0) — Kevin Miller (4, 1-0-1, 0) got his first goal in a Wildcats jersey Wednesday night and it was an important one, in that it helped Elliot Lake secured a point in their 1-1 tie Sudbury Wednesday night. Wildcats goalie A.J. Smith (761:08, 1, 2.84, .918) was not as busy as Labelle, but blocked 37 of the 38 shots he faced. Transactions: Aaron Carmichael acquired from Cochrane Crunch; Brandon Janveau traded to Cochrane Crunch. The Wildcats lone game this week will be an important one, as they host the Thunderbirds at the Centennial Arena Friday night.
5. (5-1) Cochrane Crunch (13-8-0-1) — Even though the Crunch managed to split their home-and-home series with the Gold Miners this weekend, they still fell one point further behind Kirkland Lake in the standings — thanks to the Gold Miners loss coming in overtime. New blue-liner Brandon Janveau (2, 1-1-2,0) had a goal and an assist in the win in Kirkland Lake, while Blake Peavey (2, 0-2-2, 0) also picked up his first point in a Crunch uniform. Despite the Crunch’s impressive record, coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard continues to tinker with his roster in hopes of getting to that next level. Transactions: Ned Simpson traded to Sudbury Nickel Barons; Joshua Moore acquired from Sudbury Nickel Barons; Aaron Carmichael traded to Elliot Lake Wildcats; Brandon Janveau acquired from Elliot Lake Wildcats; Henry Berger acquired from Neepawa Natives (MJHL); Blake Peavey acquired from Wellington Dukes (OJHL). The week ahead will see the Crunch play another home-and-home series with the Eskimos, with Friday night’s game at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane and Saturday night’s game at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
6. (6-4) Abitibi Eskimos (12-8-0-2) — In the words of Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne, his team gained a little “redemption” during a two-game road swing through Powassan and Mattawa. Kyle Levis (20, 3-3-6, 29) had a pair of goals in the 6-2 win over the Blackhawks, while Ryan Attwood (22, 8-16-24, 32), Ryan Tront (14, 9-10-19, 14) and Blake Cudmore (21, 5-10-15, 6) each had two goals in the Powassan game. Former Fort Frances Laker Tristan Salesse (3, 1-4-5, 0) returned from the injury list to pick up his first five points with the Eskimos in the two games. Defenceman Kealey Cummings (22, 3-7-10, 10) also had a big trip, doubling his point totals for the season. Transactions: None. After being Crushed by the Crunch 9-3 and 10-3 during their last home-and-home series, you can bet the Eskimos will be looking for a little payback when they meet them at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane Friday night and then host them at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (6-10-0-3) — Just when it looked like the Voodoos were ready to join the next level of teams, the normally defensively responsible squad was pounded 8-7 on home ice by the Eskimos. On the bright side, Steve Harland (19, 15-11-26, 0), Nathaniel McLeod (11, 10-4-14, 10) and Michael Silveri (14, 5-8-13, 13) were able to pad their stats. Matt Young (742:03, 2, 2.91, .915) and Jack Ondrovic (349:19, 0, 4.98, .868) combined to allow eight goals, but the Eskimos goalies were not much better. Transactions: None. The Voodoos will host the Beavers Friday night at the Powassan Sportsplex and then the Gold Miners the following night. Hopefully, the Voodoos will not be looking past the Beavers to their showdown with Kirkland Lake, or Blind River might just record its first win of 2014-15.
8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (1-18-0-1) — On the bright side, newcomer Marco Luciani (4, 1-0-1, 2) scored his first goal for the Blackhawks in the 6-2 loss to the Eskimos. Defenceman Alex Dajia (19, 4-11-15, 24), the Blackhawks’ second leading scorer also had a goal in that game. On dark side, goalie Joe Sheppard (909:14, 0, 7.06, .854) still gave up six goals even though his teammates limited the Eskimos to just 34 shots. Transactions: None. Christian Scgroi traded to Brampton Bombers Jr B (GOJHL); Josh Winter acquired from Dryden GM Ice Dogs (SIJHL); Rhyse Mandamin acquired from Dryden GM Ice Dogs (SIJHL); Chris Baumen acquired from Dryden GM Ice Dogs (SIJHL). The Blackhawks will host the Beavers at the Mike Rodden Arena Saturday night and then the Gold Miners Sunday afternoon.
9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-18-0-1) — Remember how last week in this column we celebrated the fact that the Beavers had only lost once in the previous week? Well the news is even better this week Beavers fans. Blind River managed not to lose any games this past week. True, their only scheduled game in Sault Ste. Marie was postponed, but when you cheer for the Beavers you have to take every opportunity to celebrate the little things and, for the record, they have only lost one game in two weeks! Transactions: Jake Schultz traded to Neepawa Natives (MJHL). The Beavers search for their first win of the season will take them to Powassan Friday night and Mattawa Saturday night. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the Beavers will win one of those two games.