TIMMINS - There is no movement at the top of Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings this week, or at the bottom.
It is the middle of the pack where things get kind of interesting, thanks in large part to the Cochrane Crunch laying the smack down on the Abitibi Eskimos in both ends of a home-and-home series.
After dropping their initial meeting of the regular season 2-1 to their Highway 11 rivals, the Crunch stomped the Eskimos 9-3 Friday night on home ice and then went into the Jus Jordan Arena and added insult to injury by pasting them 10-3 Saturday night.
Those convincing victories were enough to vault the Crunch up from No. 5 to No. 3, while the Eskimos fell from No. 4 down to No. 6.
The Crunch might have climbed even higher in the rankings, if it were not for the continued strong play of the Soo Thunderbirds and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
Those two squads were the class of the NOJHL last season and they seem to have picked up right where they left off at the end of the 2013-14 playoffs.
Consistency also seems to be the case at the bottom of the rankings, where the Powassan Voodoos, Mattawa Blackhawks and the Blind River Beavers have been ranking seven through nine for most of the season.
current ranking (last week – preseason )
1. (1-2) Soo Thunderbirds (11-2-0-0) — The Thunderbirds climbed to the top of the West Division standings with a pair of victories over the Blackhawks, the first in double-overtime, and a win against the Beavers — all on the road. They have now won nine-straight games. The Thunderbirds now have seven players in double figures in scoring, led by Nicolas Tassone (12, 10-13-23, 2), Nicolas Sicoly (13, 10-9-19, 8), Jaren Bellini (13, 7-9-16, 4), Nathan Hebert (13, 4-9-13, 0), Anthony Miller (11, 5-6-11, 10), Joey Miller (10, 4-7-11, 15) and Matt Pinder (9, 6-4-10, 2). In addition, forward Eric Hillock (12, 5-4-9, 4) is only one point away from joining that club and defenceman David Radke (5, 1-6-7, 10) is averaging more than a point per game. The Thunderbirds remain just as dominant at the other end of the ice as well, with Mario Culina (410:11, 2.19, .927) and Brian Kment (392:37, 2.90, .902) giving the team solid goaltending. Transactions: None. The Thunderbirds will continue their 10-game road journey this weekend with stops in Elliot Lake Friday night and Blind River Saturday night.
2. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (11-3-0-0) — The Gold Miners are coming off a pair of workman-like victories over the Nickel Barons in Sudbury Wednesday night and the Voodoos on home ice Friday night. Like the Thunderbirds, the Gold Miners seem to have the perfect balance of offence and defence. Look up balanced scoring in the dictionary and you just might find the roster of the Gold Miners who have 10 players in double figures in scoring, led by assist machine Steven Babin (14, 7-18-25, 8), Luc Soares (14, 11-9-20, 12), Tristen Hazlett (13, 8-9-17, 6), Ryan Swain (14, 8-7-15, 10), Jeremy Dumont (14, 5-10-15, 4), defenceman Jeremy Picard-Fiset (14, 2-12-14, 10), Tyler Romain (14, 5-8-13, 7), 16-year-old Joel Fortin (14, 7-4-11, 4), defenceman Ethan Strong (14, 5-6-11, 8) and defenceman Dylan Rosen (14, 4-7-11, 14). In addition, Connor Thie (7, 1-7-8, 8) has been averaging more than a point a game since joining the team. The Gold Miners have not missed a beat in the defensive zone, either, since shipping veteran goalie Kenny Fitzgerald west and bringing in 20-year-old Woodbury, Minn., native Josh Erickson (180:00, 2.33, .925) to team with Timmins native Devon Debastos (378:17, 2.22, .909). Transactions: Acquired Hearst native Ryan Aubertin from Humboldt Broncos (SJHL). The Gold Miners will host the Blackhawks at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night and the Crunch Saturday night.
3. (5-1) Cochrane Crunch (10-4-0-0) — The Crunch finally managed to beat a team with a winning record (the Eskimos) Friday night and then beat them again the following night for good measure. Few teams in the NOJHL can match Cochrane’s one-two offensive punch — Dustin Cordeiro (13, 19-7-26, 18) and Cody Gratton (14, 15-10-25, 10). The duo feasted on Eskimos goaltending on the weekend. The dynamic duo have plenty of support, as well, led by Josh Racek (14, 5-14-19, 8), Eskimos killer Aviv Milner (13, 3-16-19, 4), Jason Berube (14, 8-9-17, 10), defenceman Joseph Mavrin (14, 3-11-14, 10) and Jacob Erwin (14, 5-4-9, 14). In addition, Reed Gregory (14, 4-2-6, 4), who has struggled to find the back of the net, appeared to have regaining his scoring touch on the weekend and newcomer Daniel Stagg (2, 1-2-3, 0) looks like he will fit in quite nicely with the squad. Goalies Matt Young (381:24, 2.67, .929) and Troy Paquette (465:32, 2.96, .905) have been solid so far this season. The only real concern for the Crunch is continued injury woes on the blue-line. Captain Max Glashauser may miss significant time with an ankle injury and Brandon Plourde did not play in the second half of the home-and-home series. Transactions: Ryan Gruszka traded to Fort McMurray Oil Barons (AJHL); Michael Sauer acquired from Fort McMurray Oil Barons(AJHL). Now that Cochrane has mastered the ability to beat teams with a winning record they will travel to Sudbury for a meeting with the Nickel Barons on Wednesday night and then to Kirkland Lake to take on the Gold Miners Saturday night.
4. (3-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (9-3-0-2) — The Nickel Barons dropped a 5-3 decision to the Gold Miners on home ice and then dumped the Beavers in Blind River. The Nickel Barons do not have a dominant offensive player, but they have some balance, with Christopher Rossi (14, 5-9-14, 0), Jacob Bonin (13, 4-10-14, 6), August Jarecki (13, 4-9-13, 14), defenceman Khadyn Butterfly (10, 5-6-11, 27), Matt Neault (13, 5-6-11, 14), defenceman Kyle Fransen (12, 2-9-11, 6) and Jimmy Roy (14, 6-4-10, 14) leading the way. The Nickel Barons duo of Kevin Labelle (398:43, 3.46, .910) and Jessie Morin (461:50, 3.25, .907) has provided adequate goaltending. Transactions: None. The week ahead will see the Nickel Barons host the Crunch at the McClelland Arena Wednesday night and then travel to Blind River for a game with the Beavers on Sunday afternoon.
5. (6-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (9-3-0-0) — The Wildcats only game the past week saw them beat up on the Beavers, good enough to see them climb one spot in our weekly rankings. The expansion Wildcats are one of the feel-good stories of the young NOJHL season. They have solid management, good coaching and a talented lineup. Offensively, Elliot Lake is led by Spencer MacLean (12, 9-8-17, 10), Shane Woolsey (12, 6-11-17, 4), Cole Hepler (12, 7-9-16, 6), Adam Baxter (8, 4-10-14, 4), Alec MacKenzie (11, 3-11-14, 12), defenceman Nathan Campbell (12, 4-8-12, 16) and Mick Tourangeau (11, 5-6-11, 18). The Wildcats have received solid goaltending from A.J. Smith (422:30, 2.84, .914), Allan Menary (242:23, 2.97, .889) and Tristan Hanna (60:00, 1.00, .947). Transactions: None. The Wildcats will host the Thunderbirds Friday night at the Centennial Arena and then travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos on Saturday night.
6. (4-4) Abitibi Eskimos (8-5-0-2) — The Eskimos total meltdown against the Crunch sees them fall two places in our weekly rankings. The 9-3 and 10-3 losses remind me of the shellacking they took during back-to-back road games in North Bay and Sudbury last season. The Eskimos struggled to handle Cochrane’s big physical players and the Crunch used their superior speed to great advantage. For the Eskimos to get back in the win column this weekend they will need to play better defensively and get more consistent production from their big guns — Brady Clouthier (15, 11-12-23, 21), Brenden Locke (13, 11-6-17, 5), Brennan Roy (15, 6-10-16, 20), Ryan Attwood (15, 5-11-16, 18), Kevin Walker (15, 2-9-11, 27), Ryan Tront (8, 4-5-9, 8), Blake Cudmore (14, 1-8-9, 4). The stats of Braddock Baalerud (354:25, 2.88, .920) and Chet Tooker (559:49, 4.29, .882) took a hit on the weekend, but you have to expect that when your team surrenders 19 goals in two games. Transactions: None. The Eskimos will look to right their ship this weekend when they take on the Voodoos in Powassan Friday night and the Blackhawks in Mattawa Saturday night.
7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (2-8-0-2) — The Voodoos only game this week was a 4-2 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake. Powassan’s main problem remains a lack of offensive production. Steve Harland (12, 5-7-12, 0) is the only player on the team in double figures in points, while youngster Nathaniel McLeod (8, 6-1-7, 10) has shown flashes of being able to put the puck in the net. Like all young teams, the Voodoos need to be more consistent on the attack. Coach Scott Wray’s squad has done a much better job of keeping the puck out of their net, though, which is one of the reasons that they have been able to consistently stay in front of the Blackhawks and Beavers in the rankings. Goalies Jack Ondrovic (284:15, 3.80, .898) and Ben Auger (442:36, 4.88, .882) have been steady — in part because the team playing in front of them as done a better job of keeping opponents’ shots down than the squads in Mattawa and Blind River. Transactions: None. The week ahead will see the Voodoos host the Eskimos at the Powassan Sportsplex Friday night and the Wildcats Saturday night.
8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (1-11-0-1) — The Blackhawks dropped a pair of decisions to the Thunderbirds this past week, but were able to take them to double-overtime in the first game — earning a valuable point. For the Blackhawks to continue to improve, they will have to stay out of the penalty box and cut down on the shots they allow opponents. Like most of the teams in the bottom third of the rankings, the Blackhawks struggle to put the puck in the net. Mattawa’s top scorers have been Christian Sgroi (13, 5-9-14, 29), Colin Nicholson (13, 5-8-13, 17), Kyle Baril (10, 5-8-13, 13), Alex Dajia (13, 1-9-10, 10), Andy Williams (12, 4-5-9, 13) and Henry Yawit (13, 5-3-8, 2). Goalies Joe Sheppard (563:12, 6.39, .863) and Josh Horner (226:19, 7.95, .796) continue to play better than their stats would indicate. Transactions: None. The Blackhawks will travel to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners Friday night, before returning to the Mike Rodden Arena to host the Eskimos Saturday night.
9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-14-0-1) — It seems like everybody is beating up on the Beavers these days and that they only way you would find them at the top of the West Division standings is if you would rank the teams alphabetically. Losses to Sudbury and Elliot Lake added to the Beavers woes last week. Former Gold Miner Alex Hulford (18, 14-5-19, 16) has continued to score since he was picked up in trade with Mattawa earlier this season, but he has been their only offensive weapon of note. Kyle Huhn (10, 3-5-8, 10, another former Blackhawk, and Dallas Miller (10, 3-0-3, 40) are the only other players on the roster with more than two goals this season. While goalies Zach Mills (435:31, 7.58, .841) and Nick Kazmierczak (470:26, 7.14, .839) have not been spectacular, they have been steady. Like the Blackhawks, the Beavers need to cut down on the time they spend in the penalty box and the number of shots they give up. Transactions: None. The Beavers will host the Thunderbirds at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night and the Nickel Barons Sunday afternoon.
Following is a list of leaders in the NOJHL this week:
• Points — Cordeiro, Crunch, 26.
• Goals — Cordeiro, Crunch, 19.
• Assists — Babin, Gold Miners, 18.
• Power-play goals — Hulford, Beavers, 9.
• Short-handed goals — Gratton, Crunch, 6.
• Game-winning goals — Swain, Gold Miners, 4.
• Goals against average — Culina, Thunderbirds, 2.19.
• Saves percentage — Young, Crunch, .929.
• Wins — Culina, Thunderbirds, 6.
• Minutes played — Sheppard, Blackhawks, 563.12.
• Saves — Sheppard, Blackhawks, 379.