IROQUOIS FALLS - For any team to be successful, its biggest stars need to come up big in its biggest games.
Cody Gratton (22, 26-19-45, 18), of the Cochrane Crunch, might only be 5-7 and 175 pounds, but the Sudbury native certainly came up big for his team this past weekend in the latest instalment of the Battle of Highway 11.
The Crunch secured a split of the home-and-home series and three of a possible four points, thanks in large part to the play of its biggest star, Gratton.
In Friday night’s 7-6 overtime loss to the Abitibi Eskimos, Gratton had a goal and three assists — including a helper on Dustin Cordeiro’s goal late in the third period that forced the extra frame.
The following night, Gratton scored twice — including the game-tying goal, an unassisted short-handed effort, and the game-winning goal, in overtime — and added a couple of assists.
The eight points in two games helped Gratton overtake Steven Babin (23, 12-33-45, 10), of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, for the NOJHL scoring lead and gives him 45 points in Cochrane’s first 22 games.
Babin picked up a point in the Gold Miners 7-3 win over the Blackhawks in Mattawa Sunday afternoon to regain a share of the scoring lead.
The Kirkland Lake forward has played one more game than Gratton, however.
Brady Clouthier (22, 18-18-36, 27), of the Abitibi Eskimos, sits in third place in the scoring race following the weekend.
Gratton also leads the NOJHL in goals, with 26, three ahead of his Crunch teammate Cordeiro (19, 23-10-33, 21) and eight ahead of Clouthier’s 18.
Assists is the only offensive category Gratton has not dominated so far this season.
Babin, with 33, is tops in the NOJHL, following by Josh Racek (24, 9-25-34, 14), of the Crunch, and defenceman Jeremy Picard-Fiset (23, 3-24-27, 10), of the Gold Miners.
Alex Hulford (23, 14-6-20, 22), of the Blind River Beavers, leads the NOJHL with nine power-play goals.
He is followed by defenceman Ethan Strong (21, 8-10-18, 8), of the Gold Miners, with seven. Nathaniel McLeod (13, 10-5-15 , 10), of the Powassan Voodoos, Shane Woolsey (19, 7-15-22, 10), of the Elliot Lake Wildcats, and defenceman Brennan Roy (24, 12-13-25, 32), of the Eskimos, all have six.
Gratton has an amazing eight short-handed goals to lead all NOJHL snipers, while Nicolas Tassone (21, 15-20-35, 4), of the Soo Thunderbirds, has four. Five other players have two short-handed goals each.
Gratton also leads the NOJHL in game-winning goals, with five, one more than Ryan Swain (22, 9-14-23, 18), of the Gold Miners. Four players are tied with three game-winning goals each.
Mario Culina (716:23, 1, 2.09, .931), of the Thunderbirds leads the NOJHL in goals against average, following by a pair of Gold Miners — Josh Erickson (566:50, 1, 2.33, .912) and Timmins native Devon Debastos (535:09, 2, 2.35, .905).
Culina is also tops in the league in saves percentage, followed by Matt Young (802:03, 2, 2.77, .918), of the Voodoos, and A.J. Smith (824:01, 1, 2.84, .917), of the Wildcats.
Debastos and Young are tied for the lead in shutouts, with two apiece.
Culina, Smith, Erickson and Chet Tooker (1041:24, 1, 4.21, .887), of the Eskimos, each have one shutout.
Culina has posted 10 wins, to lead the NOJHL, in that category, as well.
Erickson, Tooker and Young each have nine victories on the season.
Tooker has played the most minutes so far during the 2014-15 campaign, followed by Joe Sheppard (976:23, 0, 6.82, .856), of the Mattawa Blackhawks, and Smith.
Sheppard has faced the most shots so far this season, 661, followed by Tooker, 575, and Smith 431.
There is little change this week in 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 (18-2-0-2) — Joey Ogden (11, 4-8-12, 6) had a goal and an assist to lead the Thunderbirds to a 4-1 win over the Nickel Barons in Sudbury Wednesday night, in their first game of the week. Culina made 40 saves to pick up the win in that contest. Things proved a little tougher agains the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Friday night, but Brett Jeffries (21, 5-7-12, 15) had a pair of goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to help the Thunderbirds secure their second win of the week. Transactions: None. The week ahead will see the Thunderbirds host the Wildcats at the John Rhodes Community Centre Wednesday night and then travel to Blind River for a game against the Beavers Saturday night.
2. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (18-8-0-1) — The Gold Miners split a pair of games on the road this past weekend, losing 4-1 in Powassan Saturday night and winning 7-3 in Mattawa Sunday afternoon. Strong had the lone goal in Powassan, a power-play marker. Hearst native Ryan Aubertin (9, 8-9-17, 2) had two goals and an assist in the win over the Blackhawks, while Connor Thie (16, 9-17-26, 10) had two goals and two assists. Transactions: Jamey Lauzon acquired from Abitibi Eskimos; Nick Hautanen traded to Abitibi Eskimos; Cosimo Amore traded to Abitibi Eskimos. The Gold Miners will play a home-and-home series with the Eskimos this weekend, travelling to Iroquois Falls Friday night and then hosting Abitibi at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Saturday night.
3. (3-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (13-5-1-2) — Dylan Callaghan (18, 5-2-7, 42) had the Nickel Barons only goal in a 4-1 loss to the Thunderbirds, the team’s lone game of the week. Transactions: None. The Nickel Barons will host the Beavers at the McClelland Arena on Wednesday night and then travel to Elliot Lake for a game with the Wildcats Friday night.
4. (4-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (12-6-1-1) — Spencer MacLean (20, 11-16-27, 12) had a goal and an assist in the Wildcats’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Thunderbirds. Adam Baxter (16, 7-18-25, 10) had two assists in that game. Transactions: Liam Knoll traded to Uxbridge Bruins Jr. C.; Matt Pollard acquired from Uxbridge Bruins Jr. C. A busy week will see the Wildcats will travel to Sault Ste. Marie for a game with the Thunderbirds Wednesday night, return home to host the Nickel Barons at the Centennial Arena Friday night, travel to Mattawa for a game with the Blackhawks Saturday night and then Blind River for a game with the Beavers Sunday afternoon.
5. (5-1) Cochrane Crunch (14-8-0-2) — Newcomer Henry Berger (2, 2-1-3, 4) had an assist in Cochrane’s 7-6 overtime loss on home ice Friday night and a pair of goals in the 4-3 overtime with over the Eskimos on the road Saturday night. Goalie Ben Auger (268:39, 0, 3.80, .884) played perhaps his best game in a Crunch uniform since he was acquired from the Voodoos earlier this season. Transactions: Henry Berger acquired from Neepawa Natives (MJHL); Jacob Erwin traded to Powassan Voodoos; Stavros Soilis acquired from Powassan Voodoos; Jake Ellingson traded to Minnesota Iron Rangers (SIJHL). The Crunch have a lengthy break and will not return to action until Friday, Dec. 5, when they being a three-game road trip in Sault Ste. Marie.
6. (6-4) Abitibi Eskimos (13-8-0-3) — Ryan Attwood (24, 9-18-27, 38) had a goal and an assist in the Eskimos 7-6 overtime win over the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night, while Brenden Locke (20, 16-11-27, 11) added a goal and an assist, while Tristan Salesse (5, 1-6-7, 2) had a pair of assists in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Crunch Saturday night. Transactions: Jamey Lauzon traded to Kirkland Lake Gold Miners; Nick Hautanen acquired from Kirkland Lake Gold Miners; Cosimo Amore acquired from Kirkland Lake Gold Miners. The Eskimos will play a home-and-home series against the Gold Miners, with the first game at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Friday night and the second in Kirkland Lake Saturday night.
7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (8-10-0-3) — The Voodoos took flight with a pair of victories this weekend, including a big 4-1 win against the No. 2-ranked Gold Miners on home ice. Erwin didn’t take long to make a positive impression on Voodoos fans, as he had a pair of goals in a 6-2 win over the Beavers Friday night. Nolan Smith (15, 3-7-10, 17) and Brendan D’Agostino (21, 4-13-17, 4) each had a pair of assists in the win over the Gold Miners the following night. Transactions: Stavros Soilis traded to Cochrane Crunch; Jacob Erwin from Cochrane Crunch. The only game this week for the Voodoos will see them land in Mattawa Sunday afternoon for a game with their arch-rival Blackhawks. Powassan will be looking for its third-straight win and fifth victory in six games. Streaks like those could see the Voodoos finally soar above seventh place.
8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (2-19-0-1) — Jimmy Philbin (21, 5-11-16, 6) had three assists as the Blackhawks defeated the Beavers 7-2 Saturday night, while Colin Nicholson (21, 7-9-16, 30) and Zach Nadeau (20, 3-3-6, 53) each had a pair of goals in that game. Tyler Broderson (22, 7-7-14, 8) had a goal and an assist in the 7-3 loss to the Gold Miners on Sunday. Transactions: Kyle Baril traded to English River Miners (SIJHL); Hayden Hickey acquired from English River Miners (SIJHL). The Blackhawks will host the Wildcats at the Mike Rodden Arena on Saturday and the Voodoos on Sunday.
9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-20-0-1) — The Beavers failed to pick up their first victory of the season against either the Voodoos, or the Blackhawks this past weekend — despite a prediction in this column that they would win one of those two games. Nathan Johnson (19, 4-8-12, 10) had a goal and an assist in the 6-2 loss in Powassan Friday night, while Sine Chadi (2, 1-1-2, 0) had a goal and an assist in the Beavers 7-2 loss in Mattawa Saturday night. Transactions: Sine Chadi acquired from from Dauphin Kings (MJHL). The Beavers quest for win No. 1 will not get any easier this week when they travel to Sudbury for a game with the Nickel Barons Wednesday night and then host the Thunderbirds at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night and the Wildcats on Sunday afternoon.