TIMMINS - The No. 1-ranked Soo Thunderbirds and the No. 2-ranked Kirkland Lake Gold Miners continue to chug along at the top of Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings again this week.
There is also consistency in the bottom third of the rankings, with the Powassan Voodoos, Mattawa Blackhawks and the Blind River Beavers hanging on to spots seven through nine.
The Voodoos and the Blackhawks did show some sign signs this week, however, that they might be close to beginning the long climb up the rankings after each earning a home-ice win over the free-falling Abitibi Eskimos.
Not so much, although at least the scores in their pair of weekend losses were a little bit closer than some of their earlier defeats.
As with last week, most of this week’s movements come in the middle of the pack.
Following are Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings after eight 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 (13-2-0-0) — The Thunderbirds extended their winning streak to 11 games this past weekend with victories against the Wildcats (6-3) and Beavers (7-2). Clearly general manager Kevin Cain has once again assembled a cast capable of challenging for the Dudley Hewitt Cup and coach Jordan Smith has them playing some pretty good hockey. You could search for days and not find a weakness on the Thunderbirds. Talented young home-grown forwards Nicolas Tassone (14, 12-14-26, 2), Nicolas Sicoly (15, 10-10-20, 10) and Jaren Bellini (15, 9-10-19, 4) have provided plenty of offensive highlights. And they have received plenty of support from players such as Anthony Miller (13, 7-7-14, 10), Joey Miller (12, 5-8-13, 17), Nathan Hebert (15, 4-9-13, 0), Matt Pinder (11, 7-5-12, 6), Eric Hillock (14, 5-5-10, 4), Matt Caruso (10, 4-6-10, 10), Matthew Mitchell (15, 2-7-9, 8), defenceman David Radke (7, 1-8-9, 12) and Joey Ogden (5, 2-3-5, 0). Mario Culina (470:11, 2.30, .922) and Brian Kment (452:37, 2.78, .902) continue to give the Thunderbirds solid goaltending. Transactions: None. The week ahead will see the Soo play just one game, against the Beavers in Blind River Saturday night.
2. (2-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (13-3-0-0) — The Gold Miners destroyed the Blackhawks 13-0 on home ice Friday night and then doubled up division-rival Cochrane 6-3 Saturday night. Those results make the stats of players like Steven Babin (16, 10-21-31, 8), Luc Soares (16, 12-10-22, 14), Tristen Hazlett (15, 8-12-20, 8), Jeremy Dumont (15, 9-10-19, 4), Ryan Swain (16, 8-10-18, 12), defenceman Jeremy Picard-Fiset (16, 2-15-17, 10), Timmins native Tyler Romain (16, 6-10-16, 7), defenceman Dylan Rosen (16, 4-10-14, 14), Joel Fortin (16, 7-6-13, 4), Connor Thie (9, 3-10-13, 8), defenceman Ethan Strong (16, 5-7-12, 8) and Charles Bruneau-Crete (16, 7-2-9, 4) look even more impressive. And just in case you thought the Gold Miners didn’t have enough offence, they picked up Hearst native Ryan Aubertin (2, 2-1-3, 0), a one-time Eskimos, from the Humboldt Broncos, of the SJHL. Goalie Josh Erickson (300:00, 2.00, .929) has now played five-straight games since being picked up by the Gold Miners and earned his first shutout of the season Friday night. That has left Timmins native Devon Debastos (378:17, 2.22, .909) on the bench. Transactions: Acquired forward Vincent Currao from the Neepawa Natives (MJHL); acquired forward Jackson Robinson from Steinbach Pistons (MJHL). The Gold Miners only game this week will be Friday night when they host the Voodoos at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.
3. (4-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (11-3-0-2) — The Nickel Barons defeated the Crunch on home ice Wednesday night and then dumped the Beavers in Blind River Sunday afternoon. The Nickel Barons balanced attack — led by Jacob Bonin (15, 5-12-17, 6), Christopher Rossi (16, 5-10-15, 0), August Jarecki )15, 4-10-14, 14), Jimmy Roy (16, 8-5-13, 14), defenceman Khadyn Butterfly (12, 6-6-12, 38), Matt Neault (15, 5-7-12, 16), defenceman Kyle Fransen (14, 2-10-12, 6), defenceman Ryan Mooney (16, 2-8-10, 10), Lucas Toth (16, 5-3-8, 16) and Cray Roberge (9, 4-4-8, 16) — continues to produce results. The return of Roberge from the Gatineau Olympiques, of the QMJHL, should provide a nice boost. The goaltending tandem of Kevin Labelle (474:09, 3.29, .917) and Jessie Morin (506:24, 3.08, .912) has been solid. Transactions: None. The Nickel Barons will host the Beavers at the McClelland Arena Wednesday night and then travel to Elliot Lake for a game against the Wildcats Friday night.
4. (5-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (10-4-0-0) — The Wildcats rebounded from a home-ice loss to the Thunderbirds Friday night by beating the Voodoos in Powassan Saturday night. Their climb to the No. 4 spot in the rankings has as much to do with the struggles of the Crunch, however, as it does with their success. Still, it is hard to argue with their record and how they have played against some of the top teams in the league. Cole Hepler (14, 9-12-21, 6), Spencer MacLean (14, 10-9-19, 10), Adam Baxter (10, 5-13-18, 6), Shane Woolsey (13, 6-11-17 , 6), Alec MacKenzie (13, 4-12-16, 12), defenceman Nathan Campbell (14, 6-9-15, 18), Mick Tourangeau (13, 5-6-11, 22), David Chiarelli (14, 3-6-9, 10) have provided the Wildcats with a balanced attack so far this season, while the goaltending of A.J. Smith (482:30, 3.23, .901), Allan Menary (302:23, 2.98, .898) and Tristan Hanna (60:00, 1.00, .947). Transactions: None. The Wildcats will host the Nickel Barons at the Centennial Arena Friday night in their only game of the week.
5. (3-1) Cochrane Crunch (10-6-0-0) — After taking the both ends of a home-and-home series from the Eskimos the previous week, the Crunch fell back into their losing ways against teams with winning records as they lost 5-3 in Sudbury Wednesday night and 6-3 in Kirkland Lake Saturday night. The Crunch made a major trade prior to those two games, sending 20-year-old goalie Matt Young and 20-year-old blue-liner James Vuillemot to the Voodoos in exchange for 17-year-old goalie Ben Auger. Auger did not look sharp in his first start against the Gold Miners, however, while Young backstopped his new team to a 4-1 win over the Eskimos Friday night. Crunch fans shouldn’t panic, however, as Auger is a very good young goalie and he should excel in Cochrane. Nor should there be concern about the high-powered offence putting up just six goals in two games. Cody Gratton (16, 17-12-29, 12), Dustin Cordeiro (15, 19-7-26, 18), Josh Racek (16, 6-16-22, 8), Aviv Milner 15, 3-17-20, 6), Jason Berube (16, 8-9-17, 10), Joseph Mavrin (16, 4-11-15, 12), Jacob Erwin (16, 5-4-9, 14), Aaron Carmichael (12, 2-7-9, 10) and Max Glashauser (13, 1-8-9, 13) have not forgotten how to score goals. And the addition of Auger, to team with Troy Paquette (560:28, 3.21, .897), should give the Crunch solid netminding, although there may be times when the team will wish it have a veteran puck stopper, as well. Transactions: Acquired forward Ian Skinner from Nipawin Hawks (SJHL). The Crunch host the Blackhawks at the Tim Horton Event Centre Sunday afternoon. This game had originally be scheduled for Friday night. It will be a 4:30 p.m. start.
6. (6-4) Abitibi Eskimos (8-7-0-2) — Getting crushed by the Crunch 9-3 and 10-3 was bad enough, but losing 4-1 to the Voodoos in Powassan Friday night and the Blackhawks 5-4 in Mattawa Saturday night has Eskimos fans wondering what is going on with their beloved squad. How can a team that played with confidence in taking back-to-back victories from the Gold Miners and the Crunch not that long ago have fallen to such depths? The players have stopped playing coach and general manager Paul Gagne’s system consistently. Instead they have been trying to take shortcuts and have made too many errors. Things won’t improve until they get with the program. If they don’t you can can expect further personnel changes. Prior to the weekend games, the Eskimos acquired forward Patrick Picard from the Gold Miners and signed goalie Tyler Lesschaeve (40:25, 4.45, .885), with Braddock Baalerud (354:25, 2.88, .920) out with a knee injury. For the time being, Lesschaeve will team with Chet Tooker (639:24, 4.32, .881) in the Eskimos net. Offensively, the Eskimos still have some pretty formidable weapons in Brady Clouthier (17, 12-13-25, 23), Brenden Locke (15, 11-8-19, 7), defenceman Brennan Roy (17, 8-10-18, 22), Ryan Attwood (17, 5-11-16, 20), Ryan Tront (10, 4-7-11, 10) and Kevin Walker (17, 2-9-11, 33). In addition, Blake Cudmore (16, 1-8-9, 4) and Cameron Etherington (14, 5-3-8, 15) had begun to contribute more of late. Transactions: Picard acquired from Kirkland Lake (NOJHL); Lesschaeve signed. The Eskimos will host the Blackhawks at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night in their lone game of the week. Can you say “must win” Eskimos fans?
7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (3-9-0-2) — After beating the Eskimos on home ice Friday night, the Voodoos lost a hard-fought 5-3 decision to a very good Elliot Lake squad the following night. Things could be looking up for Powassan fans, although the Voodoos could still use a little bit more firepower. Steve Harland (14, 7-7-14, 0), Nathaniel McLeod (8, 6-1-7, 10), Kyle Moore (9, 5-2-7, 6) and Michael Silveri (11, 4-3-7, 11) are still the only Powassan players with more than two goals on the season. The Voodoos have been pretty steady in their own end of the rink, however, and the addition of veteran Young (501:24, 2.75, .924) to team with Jack Ondrovic (284:15, 3.80, .898) should see that trend continue. Transactions: Young and Vuillemot (6, 0-0-0, 2) acquired from the Crunch in exchange for Auger. The Voodoos’ lone game this week will see them travel to Kirkland Lake for a Halloween night game against the Gold Miners.
8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (2-12-0-1) — An eventful week for Blackhawks fans saw the NOJHL revoke the franchise from owner David Beauchamp and issue a new franchise to a yet-to-be-named new ownership group in the community off the ice, while on the ice the team got throttled 13-0 in Kirkland Lake Friday night and then doubled its number of victories Saturday night against the visiting Abitibi Eskimos. That is not hard to do, of course, when you only have one win to start with. Like their neighbours in Powassan, the Blackhawks biggest problem this season has been an inability to put the puck in the net, one of the keys to winning hockey games on a consistent basis. Kyle Baril (12, 5-8-13, 11), defenceman Alex Dajia (15, 3-8-11, 18), Christian Sgroi (13, 3-8-11, 27), Andy Williams (14, 5-5-10, 10), Colin Nicholson (15, 3-7-10, 17), Jimmy Philbin (15, 3-5-8, 0), Henry Yawit (15, 5-2-7, 4) and Tyler Broderson (15, 3-4-7, 6) are the only Blackhawks players with more than two goals so far this season. Goalies Joe Sheppard (650:04, 6.09, .855) and Josh Horner (259:27, 8.33, .793) have played better than their stats might indicate, but they have been peppered with shots all season. Transactions: None. The Blackhawks travel to Iroquois Falls for a game agains the Eskimos Saturday night and to Cochrane to take on the Crunch Sunday afternoon.
9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-16-0-1) — For those keeping track, the Beavers last victory was a 3-2 decision against the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie on March 15, their first game of the 2013-14 playoffs. Their last regular season victory came eight days earlier when they beat the Trappers in North Bay. Their last victory on home ice? That came seven days earlier when they thumped the Trappers 9-5. The Thunderbirds and Nickel Barons added to the woes of Beavers fans this past weekend. It is anybody’s guess when the Beavers will win their first game of the 2014-15 campaign, but logic would suggest it will happen at some point. Alex Hulford (20, 14-6-20, 20), the former Gold Miner who was picked up in a trade with Mattawa earlier this season, gives the Beavers a legitimate offensive threat, but it is too easy for opponents to focus on shutting him down. Blind River needs a better effort from players like Nathan Johnson (15, 3-6-9, 8), Kyle Huhn (12, 3-5-8, 10), Nathan Hans (17, 2-5-7, 14), Chris Zajac (16, 1-5-6, 38), Jake Schultz (6, 2-3-5, 31) and Austin Lamont (5, 1-3-4, 2). Dallas Miller (12, 3-0-3, 44) has brought an element of grit to the team and can also put the puck in the net from time to time. The Beavers added goalie Daniel Potter (106:58, 5.61, .828) and he has fared a little better than Nick Kazmierczak (470:26, 7.14, .839) and Zach Mills (448:33, 7.62, .839). Transactions: Potter acquired from Hawkesbury Hawks (CCHL). The Beavers will resume their quest for their first win of the 2014-15 season when they travel to Sudbury for a game against the Nickel Barons Wednesday night and then return home to hose the Thunderbirds at the Blind River Community Centre Saturday night.
Following is a list of leaders in the NOJHL this week:
• Points — Babin, Gold Miners, 31.
• Goals — Cordeiro, Crunch, 19.
• Assists — Babin, Gold Miners, 21.
• 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, 7.
• Minutes played — Sheppard, Blackhawks, 650:04.
• Saves — Sheppard, Blackhawks, 388.