By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – As we near the mid-season mark in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League its 12 teams are beginning to separate themselves into favourites, contenders, pretenders and lost causes.
With winning percentages of over .800, you have to group the Soo Thunderbirds (.900), the Powassan Voodoos (.895) and the Cochrane Crunch (.826) among the teams that have to be favoured as the last team standing when the playoffs conclude and it is time to declare which team will represent the NOJHL at the Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament.
As hosts of the event, the Gold Miners (.659) who rank second among the contenders grouping (teams with a winning percentage of between .800 and .500) will advance to the tournament but Kirkland Lake coach and general manager Marc Lafleur would much rather see his squad earn its berth and have the team they beat in the finals advance as the second NOJHL rep.
The Gold Miners still have a lot of work to do, however, as they are not only not among the favourites at this point, they are only No. 2 among the contenders.
It is the Elliot Lake Wildcats (.682) who are tops among the contenders.
Also among the group of contenders are the Rayside-Balfour Canadians (.600) and the Timmins Rock (.568).
The Canadians — with victories against both the Thunderbirds and the Voodoos — have to be considered the Jekyll & Hyde.
The Soo Eagles (.425) headline a group of pretenders (with winning percentages between .500 and .200) that also includes the Iroquois Falls Eskis (.261) and the Espanola Express (.214).
Despite showing a lot of promise early in the season, the Blind River Beavers (.188) have tumbled down to the lost causes grouping — teams with winning percentages under .200.
The only other member of the grouping and maybe deserving of a sub-basement category all their own are the French River Rapids (.050).
Following are Tom’s Top 12 NOJHL power rankings for this week, with last week’s rankings in brackets:
• No. 1 (1). Soo Thunderbirds (20, 18-2-0-0, 36) — Matthew Caruso (20, 5-12-17, 18) and Nathan Hebert (19, 5-7-12, 4) each had a goal and an assist as the Thunderbirds skated to a 5-2 win over the Wildcats in Elliot Lake this past week.
The week ahead: The Thunderbirds will travel across the border to take on the Eagles in Sault, Mich., Saturday night and then travel to Blind River to take on the Beavers Sunday afternoon.
• No. 2 (2). Powassan Voodoos (19, 17-2-0-0, 34) — To say Voodoos goalie Garrett Forrest (657:12, 9-1-0-0, 1, 2.19, .939) had a good weekend would be a bit of an understatement. He limited the Rock to one goal in a 5-1 victory Friday night and then earned a shutout in Saturday night’s 2-0 win over the Canadians. Tyler Peters (19, 18-20-38, 20) netted a pair of goals, including the game-winner, against the Rock.
The week ahead: The Voodoos will travel to Espanola for a game with the Express Friday night, then return home to host the Express Saturday night at the Powassan Sportsplex and the Canadians Monday night.
• No. 3 (3). Cochrane Crunch (23, 18-3-1-1, 38) — The Crunch recorded a pair of narrow 6-5 victories this past weekend, beating the Express in regulation and the Gold Miners in overtime. Joseph Thielen (23, 5-13-18, 14) had a goal and an assist in the first victory, while Dustin Cordeiro (23, 23-15-38, 23) had three goals and an assist in the later.
The week ahead: The Crunch embark on a three-game road trip this weekend that will see them make stops in Elliot Lake to play the Wildcats Friday night, Blind River to play the Beavers Saturday night and French River to play the Rapids Sunday afternoon.
• No. 4 (5). Elliot Lake Wildcats (22, 13-5-4-0, 30) — Spencer MacLean (19, 12-8-20, 15) had a goal an an assist as the Wildcats dropped a 5-2 decision to the Thunderbirds on home ice.
The week ahead: The Wildcats will host the Crunch at the Centennial Arena Friday night and the Eagles Sunday night.
• No. 5 (4). Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (22, 13-6-2-1, 29) — The Gold Miners picked up three of a possible four points by beating the Eskis 8-1 in Iroquois Falls and dropping a 6-5 OT decision to the Crunch in Cochrane. Jamey Lauzon (16, 7-8-15, 52) had three goals in the win over the Eskis. Logan Fredericks (21, 14-8-22, 23) had a pair of goals in the loss to the Crunch.
The week ahead: The Gold Miners will host the Rock at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night and the Eskis Sunday night.
• No. 6 (7). Rayside-Balfour Canadians (20, 12-8-0-0, 24) — MacKenzie Savard (297:35, 4-1-0-0, 0, 2.22, .932) made 35 saves as the Canadians dropped a 2-0 decision to the Voodoos in their lone game of the week.
The week ahead: The Canadians and the Rapids will play a home-and-home series this week, with the first game in French River Friday night and the second in Rayside-Balfour Saturday night. The Canadians will then visit the Voodoos in Powassan Monday night.
• No. 7 (6). Timmins Rock (22, 12-9-0-1, 25) — Ryan Theriault (16, 11-9-20, 8) had the Rock’s lone goal in Friday’s 5-1 loss in Powassan. Affiliate goalie Bradley Dobson (60:00, 1-0-0-0, 1, 0.00, 1.000) earned a shutout in his first NOJHL start as the Rock blanked the Rapids 3-0 in French River Saturday night.
The week ahead: The Rock will travel to Kirkland Lake to take on the Gold Miners Friday night and then to Iroquois Falls to take on the Eskis Saturday night.
• No. 8 (8). Soo Eagles (20, 8-11-0-1, 17) — The Eagles split a home-and-home series with the Beavers, winning 5-3 on home ice Friday night and losing 6-3 in Blind River Saturday night. Defenceman Alex DiBacco (20, 7-7-14, 8) had a goal and two assists in Friday’s game. Evan Ketner (20, 7-9-16, 10) had one of the three goals in Saturday’s loss.
The week ahead: The Eagles will host the Soo Thunderbirds at Pullar Stadium Saturday night and travel to Elliot Lake to take on the Wildcats Saturday night.
• No. 9 (9). Iroquois Falls Eskis (23, 6-17-0-0, 12) — The Eskis suffered a pair of tough losses on home ice this past weekend. David Osborne (23, 14-15-29, 31) had the lone goal as the Eskis dropped an 8-1 decision to the Gold Miners Friday night. Joe Sheppard (140:00, 0-2-0-0, 0, 4.29, .892) made 42 saves in a 1-0 loss to the Express Saturday night.
The week ahead: The Eskis will host the Rock at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night and then travel to Kirkland Lake for a game with the Gold Miners Sunday night.
• No. 10 (11). Espanola Express (21, 4-16-1-0, 9) — The Express split their two games on the weekend and came close to sweeping both. Joel Grandbois (21, 3-8-11, 12) had a goal and an assist as the Express battled back from a 5-0 deficit but came up shot in a 6-5 loss to the Crunch in Cochrane. Newly acquired Kevin Labelle (610:40, 4-6-0-0, 1, 3.54, .907) made 55 saves as the Express blanked the Eskis 1-0 in Iroquois Falls Saturday night.
The week ahead: The Express will host the Voodoos at the Espanola Regional Recreation Complex Friday night and then travel to Powassan for a return engagement Saturday night.
• No. 11 (10). Blind River Beavers (24, 4-19-1-0, 9) — The Beavers managed a split with the Eagles, dropping a 5-3 decision in Sault, Mich., Friday night and then earning a 6-3 victory Saturday night. Joseph Eben (24 , 4-9-13, 43) had a goal and an assist in Friday’s loss. Max Khull (24, 7-6-13, 18) and Tyler Somers (10, 1-4-5, 14) each had a goal and an assist in Saturday’s victory.
The week ahead: The Beavers’ lone game this week will see them travel to Sault, Mich., to take on the Eagles Friday night.
• No. 12 (12). French River Rapids (20, 1-19-0-0, 2) — Goalie Alec St. Georges (575:36, 0-8-0-0, 0, 4.48, .900) made 36 saves in Saturday night’s 3-0 home-ice loss to the Rock.
The week ahead: The Rapids play a home-and-home series with the Canadians, with the teams meeting in French River Friday night and Rayside-Balfour Saturday night. The Rapids will then host the Crunch at the Noelville Arena Sunday aftenoon.