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Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings

TIMMINS - It was a week of firsts for two of the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League’s bottom feeders and fans of both the Mattawa Blackhawks and the Blind River Beavers have something to celebrate.

After suffering 11-straight setbacks, the Blackhawks finally earned their first victory since officially moving to Mattawa.

Nick Grose picked up four assists to help lead the Blackhawks to an 8-5 win over the Powassan Voodoos at the Mike Rodden Arena Sunday afternoon.

The Beavers, meanwhile, picked up their first point of the season in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Soo Thunderbirds on Wednesday night.

The Beavers actually enjoyed a 3-1 lead in the contest, before goals by Jaren Bellini and Eric Hillock forced overtime.

Matt Caruso then scored in the second overtime period to spoil the Beavers’ plans of building their first victory of the 2014-15 campaign.

So, did the achievements help the Blackhawks or the Beavers move up Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings?

No, they maintained their hold on No. 8 and No. 9 respectively, but there was a considerable amount of movement in the rankings this week.

current ranking (last week – preseason )

1. (1-2) Soo Thunderbirds (8-2-0-0) — The Thunderbirds still trail the Sudbury Nickel Barons by two points in the West Division standings, but they have two games in hand and have now run off six-straight wins. They may have struggled to earn a 4-3 double overtime win over the Beavers in the first game of the week, but they were full marks for a 5-4 double-overtime win against a very good Abitibi Eskimos team Friday night. The Thunderbirds continue to get balanced scoring, led by Nicolas Tassone (9, 7-9-16, 2), Bellini (10, 6-8-14, 2), Nicolas Sicoly (10, 6-6-12, 4), Nathan Hebert (10, 2-8-10, 0), Matt Pinder (8, 6-3-9, 2), defenceman Eric Hillock (9, 4-4-8, 4), Anthony Miller (8, 2-5-7, 6), Brett Jeffries (10, 2-5-7, 6) and Matt Caruso (5, 3-3-6, 6). Combine that with the strong goaltending of rookie Mario Culina (245:57, 1.95, .927) and veteran Brian Kment (367:2, 2.45, .918) and it is easy to see why the Thunderbirds sit atop the rankings. Transactions: None. The Thunderbirds kick of a span of 10-straight road games this week with stops in Blind River Wednesday night and Mattawa Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

2. (3-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (9-3-0-0) — The Gold Miners returned to form with a 5-2 win over the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night and 4-3 on home ice Saturday night. Josh Erickson (120:00, 2.50, .922), acquired from the Bonnyville Pontiacs (AJHL), was in net for both of those victories, as the Gold Miners shipped goalie Kenny Fitzgerald (281:43, 2.77, .875) off to the Peace River Navigators, of the NWJHL. Erickson will now team with Timmins native Devon Debastos (318:17, 2.26, .910) in the Gold Miners net. Offensively, the Gold Miners keep chugging along led by Steven Babin (12, 6-15-21, 8), Luc Soares (12, 8-9-17, 12), Tristen Hazlett (11, 8-8-16, 4), Jeremy Dumont (12, 4-10-14, 4), Ryan Swain (12, 6-7-13, 8), Tyler Romain (12, 5-8-13, 7), defenceman Jeremy Picard-Fiset (12, 2-10-12, 10), defenceman Ethan Strong (12, 5-6-11, 8), Joel Fortin (12, 7-3-10, 4) and Dylan Rosen (12, 4-4-8, 12). Transactions: Erickson acquired from Bonnyville Pontiacs (AJHL); Fitzgerald traded to the Peace River Navigators (NWJHL). The Gold Miners will travel to Sudbury for a game against the Nickel Barons on Wednesday, before returning to the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night for a game against the Powassan Voodoos.

3. (6-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (8-2-0-2) — The Nickel Barons picked up three of a possible four points this week, dropping a 4-3 double-overtime decision to the Wildcats on home ice Wednesday night and then earning a 5-4 double-overtime victory over the Voodoos in Powassan Saturday night. Those points helped the Nickel Barons maintain their lead over the Thunderbirds atop the East Division standings. The Nickel Barons are not a high-scoring squad, but they do get plenty of offensive output from Jacob Bonin (11, 4-8-12, 6), August Jarecki (11, 4-8-12, 10), defenceman Khadyn Butterfly (8, 5-5-10, 23), defenceman Kyle Fransen (10, 2-8-10, 6), Jimmy Roy (12, 5-4-9, 12) and Christopher Rossi (12, 2-6-8, 0). Kevin Labelle (365:51, 3.12, .919) and Jessie Morin (374:42, 3.20, .908) have supplied the Nickel Barons with steady goaltending. Transactions: Acquire Matt Neault from the Beavers. The Nickel Barons will host the Gold Miners at the McClelland Arena Wednesday night, before travelling to Blind River for a game with the Beavers on Saturday night.

4. (5-4) Abitibi Eskimos (8-3-0-2) — The Eskimos climb up the rankings has been fuelled by a streak that has seen them pick up five victories and a double-overtime loss in a span of six games. They picked up a pair in Sault Ste. Marie Friday night and two in Elliot Lake Sunday night — not easy places to win games. Like most of the successful teams in the NOJHL, the Eskimos feature balanced scoring, led by Brady Clouthier (13, 10-12-22, 21), defenceman Brennan Roy (13, 6-10-16, 16), Ryan Attwood (13, 5-11-16, 14), Brenden Locke (11, 10-5-15, 5), converted defenceman Kevin Walker (13, 2-9-11, 21), Ryan Tront (6, 4-5-9, 8) and Blake Cudmore (12, 1-7-8, 4). The Eskimos have also received solid goaltending from Braddock Baalerud (331:08, 2.17, .937) and Chet Tooker (463:06, 3.37, .907). Transactions: None. The Eskimos will face another test this weekend when they travel to Cochrane for a game against the Crunch Friday night and then host their Highway 11 rivals at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.

5. (2-1) Cochrane Crunch (8-4-0-0) — The Crunch have still not beaten a team with a winning record, after they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Gold Miners on home ice Friday night and suffered a 4-3 setback in Kirkland Lake the following night. The key to reversing that trend will be to get a more consistent effort from the first puck drop until the final buzzer. The Crunch showed flashes of being an elite team in both games, but endured too many mental lapses. Putting the puck in the net, even against the Gold Miners, is not an issue for the Crunch, as they are led by Cody Gratton (12, 13-10-23,6), Dustin Cordeiro (11, 14-4-18, 8), Josh Racek (12, 4-13-17, 8), Aviv Milner (11, 2-10-12, 4), Jason Berube (12, 5-6-11, 10), defenceman Joseph Mavrin (12, 2-7-9, 8), Jacob Erwin (12, 4-4-8, 12), defenceman Max Glashauser (10, 1-6-7, 11), Ryan Gruszka (12, 3-3-6, 16) and Aaron Carmichael (8, 1-5-6, 6). The goaltending, for the most part, has been solid with veteran Matt Young (381:24, 2.52, .926) and rookie Troy Paquette (345:32, 3.13, .910) between the pipes. Heading into the weekend they were the No. 6 ranked team in Canada and if the Crunch hope to attain such lofty status again they will have to find a way to beat good hockey teams. Transactions: None. The Crunch will face another big test this week when they host the Eskimos at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night and then travel to Iroquois Falls for a return engagement Saturday night.

6. (4-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (8-3-0-0) — The Wildcats won two of the three games they played this week, but they were less than impressive in dropping a 5-2 decision to the Eskimos on home ice Sunday night. Still, a record of 8-3-0-0 is likely much better than even the most optimistic Wildcats fan was anticipating prior to the start of the season for the expansion franchise. The key to Elliot Lake’s success has been a balanced attack and solid goaltending. Shane Woolsey (11, 6-10-16, 4), Cole Hepler (11, 7-7-14, 6), Spencer MacLean (11, 6-8-14, 12), Alec MacKenzie (10, 3-11-14, 12), Adam Baxter (7, 4-6-10, 4), Nathan Campbell (11, 3-6-9, 16), Mick Tourangeau (10, 3-6-9, 16), David Chiarelli (11, 3-5-8, 8), Samuel Gagnon (10, 3- 4-7, 6), Chris Ordoobadi (11, 3-4-7, 12) and Phill Cloutier (9, 2-4-6, 15) have all put up solid numbers to start the year. A.J. Smith (422:30, 2.84, .914), Allan Menary (183:21, 2.95, .899) and Tristan Hanna (60:00, 1.00, .944) have supplied solid goaltending. Transactions: None. The Wildcats’ lone game this week will see them host the Beavers at the Centennial Arena on Friday night.

7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (2-7-0-2) — The Voodoos failed to win either of their games this week, although they did pick up a point during a 5-4 double-overtime loss to the Nickel Barons on home ice. Perhaps the Voodoos’ biggest challenge this season has been playing consistent hockey. One of the youngest teams in the NOJHL, the Voodoos do not really have any offensive stars. They have received decent offensive production from Steve Harland (11, 5-7-12, 0), Nathaniel McLeod (8, 6-1-7, 10), Aaron Dart (11, 2-5-7, 8) Timmins native Aaron Sullivan (11, 2-5-7, 6), Michael Silveri (8, 4-2-6, 9) and Kyle Moore (7, 4-2-6, 4). Jack Ondrovic (224:15, 3.75, .907) and Ben Auger (442:36, 4.88, .882) have given the Voodoos steady goaltending. Transactions: None. The Voodoos’ lone game this week will be Friday night when they take on the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake.

8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (1-10-0-0) — The Blackhawks finally secured their first victory this week, an 8-5 decision over the Voodoos on home ice. Tyler Broderson (11, 4-3-7, 6), Christian Sgroi (11, 4-6-10, 25) and Colin Nicholson (11, 3-7-10, 12) each had two goals in that victory. That is good news for a squad that has few offensive stars. Kyle Baril (8, 4-6-10, 13), Henry Yawit (11, 4-2-6, 0) and Andy Williams (10, 3-2-5, 11) are the only other Blackhawks to score more than two goals so far this season. Goalies Joe Sheppard (465:50, 6.31, .860) and Josh Horner (194:10, 8.03, .795) have played better than their stats would suggest. Transactions: Mark Spong traded to English River Miners (SIJHL). The Blackhawks travel to Sault Ste. Marie for a pair of games against the Thunderbirds, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

9. (9-9) Blind River Beavers (0-11-0-1) — In addition to picking up their first point of the season in Sault Ste. Marie, the Wildcats held the Eskimos to a 3-2 decision on home ice Saturday night. Most of the Beavers’ struggles this season can be attributed to a difficulty putting the puck in the net. Alex Hulford (15, 10-4-14, 8) leads Blind River in scoring, although the bulk of his totals came with Mattawa prior to his trade to the Beavers. Nathan Johnson (10, 2-4-6, 2) and Nathan Hans (12, 1-5-6, 12) are the next of a mediocre lot. Matt Neault (9, 3-2-5, 12) was traded to the Nickel Barons, which likely won’t help the Blind River attack. Zach Mills (364:07, 7.58, .845) and Nick Kazmierczak (361:50, 7.30, .829) could use more support in front of them and on the scoresheet. Transactions: Neault traded to the Nickel Barons; Chris Hrabec acquired from English River Miners (SIJHL). The Beavers have a busy week, hosting the Thunderbirds at the Blind River Community Centre on Wednesday night, travel to Elliot Lake for a game against the Wildcats Friday night and then returning home to host the Nickel Barons Saturday night.

Following is a list of leaders in the NOJHL this week:

• Points — Gratton, Crunch, 23;

• Goals — Cordeiro, Crunch, 14;

• Assists — Babin, Gold Miners, 15;

• Power-play goals — Hulford, Beavers, 6;

• Short-handed goals — Gratton, Crunch, 5;

• Game-winning goals — Swain, Gold Miners, 3 and Roy, Nickel Barons, 3;

• Goals against average — Culina, Thunderbirds, 1.95;

• Saves percentage — Baalerud, Eskimos, .937;

• Wins — Smith, Wildcats, 5; Young, Crunch, 5; Kment, Thunderbirds, 5;

• Minutes played — Sheppard, Blackhawks, 465:50; and

• Saves — Sheppard, Blackhawks, 301.