Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings this week

TIMMINS - The defending-champion Kirkland Lake Gold Miners retain their spot atop Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings this week, but there is plenty of movement below them.

The first number refers to this week’s ranking, the second to last week’s and the third to the initial preseason predicted order of finish:

1. (1-3) Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (6-1-0-0) — The Gold Miners scored a 2-1 victory over the Abitibi Eskimos on the road to start their week and then returned home to crush the Blind River Beavers 9-0. Goaltender Devon Debastos earned his league-leading second shutout of the season against the Beavers and lowered his NOJHL-best goals against average to 0.67. Debastos is also tops in saves percentage at .962. Teammate Kenny Fitzgerald is tied for second in shutouts with A.J. Smith of the Elliot Lake Wildcats and Matt Young of the Cochrane Crunch. Fitzgerald is also second in goals against average (1.75) and has posted a .918 saves percentage. The Gold Miners are just as dominant in the offensive zone, too, as Steven Babin (7, 3-12-15, 6), Luc Soares (7, 6-6-12, 10), Tristan Hazlett (7, 6-6-12, 0), Jeremy Dumont (7, 3-8-11, 2) and Ryan Swain (7, 5-5-10, 4) all rank in the Top 10 scorers in the NOJHL. Tyler Romain (7, 3-6-9, 7) and Joel Fortin (7, 5-3-8, 2) sit just outside of the Top 10 and all-star defenceman Jeremy Picard-Fiset (7, 1-5-6, 8) is off to another great start. Transactions: None. The Gold Miners embark on a three-game road trip this week, with stops in Elliot Lake Friday night, Blind River Saturday night and Sault Ste. Marie Sunday afternoon.

2. (6-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (5-1-0-0) — The Wildcats jump four spots in the rankings this week, thanks to a 5-4 overtime win over the Sudbury Nickel Barons on home ice Friday night and a big 5-2 win over the Soo Thunderbirds on the road Sunday night. Smith (240:00, 2.75, .914) has been outstanding and his creasemate, Allan Menary (120:41, 2.49, .904) has been just as good. Shane Woolsey (6, 4-7-11, 4), Alec Mackenzie (6, 3-6-9, 6), Spencer MacLean (6, 4-4-8, 6), Cole Hepler (6, 2-5-7, 4), Samuel Gagnon (6, 2-4-6, 0), David Chiarelli (6, 2-3-5, 6), Liam Blais (6, 4-1-5, 2) and Natham Campbell (6, 1-4-5, 6) have given the Wildcats balanced scoring. Transactions: Adam Baxter acquired from the Ottawa Jr. Senators (CCHL), Brandon Janveau acquired from the Fort Frances Lakers (SIJHL), Nick Mardirossian traded to the Beavers, Alex Cyrene traded to the Beavers. The Wildcats will face a tough test this weekend, as they host the Gold Miners Friday night at the Centennial Arena and then travel to Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday night for another game against the Thunderbirds at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

3. (3-6) Sudbury Nickel Barons (7-1-0-1) — The Nickel Barons picked up three of a possible four points this week, defeating the Eskimos 5-3 on home ice Wednesday night, before dropping a 5-4 overtime decision to the Wildcats on Friday night. Sudbury continues to get solid goaltending from its puck-stopping duo of Keven Labelle (300:41, 2.99, .926) and Jessie Morin (246:54, 3.40, .891). Defenceman Khadyn Butterfly (6, 5-5-10, 15) leads the Nickel Barons in scoring and is a force in his own end, as well. Like the Wildcats, Sudbury has a balanced attack that also features Jacob Bonin (8, 3-6-9, 2), Jimmy Roy (9, 5-4-9, 10), Christopher Rossi (9, 2-6-8, 0), blue-liner Kyle Fransen (7, 2-6-8, 4) and August Jarecki (8, 2-5-7, 8). Transactions: None. The Nickel Barons lone game this week will be on Wednesday, when they host the Thunderbirds at the McClelland Arena.

4. (5-1) Cochrane Crunch (6-2-0-0) — The Crunch beat up on the NOJHL’s two winless franchises this week, posting a 6-2 win over the Blind River Beavers on home ice Thursday night and then spoiling the Mattawa Blackhawks home opener by skating off with a 6-4 win Saturday night. Cody Gratton (8, 9-8-17, 4) took over the lead in the NOJHL scoring race this week, netting five goals and an assist in the two games. Gratton is just as dangerous killing penalties as he is on the power play, as his four short-handed goals leads the league. Josh Racek (8, 4-9-13, 10), Dustin Cordeiro (7, 8-1-9, 6), Jacob Erwin (8, 4-4-8, 10), Jason Berube (8, 3-5-8, 6), defenceman Joseph Mavrin (8, 2-5-7, 2) and Aviv Milner (7, 0-7-7, 0) are also having big years for the offensively gifted Crunch. Young (240:00, 2.75, .934) and Troy Paquette (246:56, 2.43, .922) have been solid in net for Cochrane. Transactions: None. The Crunch will continue their run against lower-level teams this week, as they host the Powassan Voodoos Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre and then travel to Mattawa for another game against the Blackhawks Saturday night.

5. (4-4) Abitibi Eskimos (4-3-0-1) — The Eskimos were only able to pick up two of a possible six points this week, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Gold Miners on home ice Tuesday, losing 5-3 to the Nickel Barons in Sudbury on Wednesday and then returning home to blast the Beavers 11-2 Saturday night. The return of Ryan Tront (1, 0-3-3, 0) to the lineup Saturday night should help provide a boost to the Eskimos offence. Brady Clouthier (8, 8-6-14, 14), who led the Eskimos in scoring during the 2013-14 campaign is off to a great start, as is Brenden Locke (6, 5-3-8, 5). Newcomer Ryan Attwood (8, 3-7-10, 6) has brought speed to the wing, while converted defenceman Kevin Walker (8, 1-5-6, 8) and rookie Kezmin Madden (8, 2-3-5, 0) have been solid. Defenceman Brennan Roy (8, 4-5-9, 10) ranks among the top scorers among blue-liners in the NOJHL. Braddock Baalerud (211:08, 1.99, .948) and Chet Tooker (275:46, 3.48, .901) have combined to give the Eskimos steady goaltending. Transactions: Goalie Alex Chandler traded to the Beavers. The Eskimos will host the Blackhawks at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex Friday night and the Voodoos at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.

6. (2-2) Soo Thunderbirds (2-2-0-0) — The Thunderbirds rarely lose at the John Rhodes Community Centre, so dropping their second-straight on home ice to a very good Elliot Lake team in their only game of the week results in their slide down the rankings. The Thunderbirds do not appear, at this point, to have the offensive balance they featured in recent years. Nicolas Tassone (4, 4-3-7, 0) and Nicolas Sicoly (4, 4-2-6, 0) have accounted for the lion’s share of the Thunderbirds scoring this season. The only other Thunderbirds with more than one goal this season are defenceman Owen Headrick (3, 2-1-3, 2) and Matt Caruso (1, 2-1-3, 0). In an attempt to boost scoring, the Thunderbirds have re-acquired Joey Miller from the Portage la Prairie Terriers, of the MJHL. Keeping the puck out of the net has not been an issue for the Thunderbirds, as both Mario Culina (120, 2.00, .926) and Brian Kment (120:00, 3.50, .881) have been solid. Transactions: Joseph Ogden acquired from the Estevan Bruins (SJHL), Joey Miller acquired from the Portage la Prairie Terriers (MJHL), Jake Staples traded to the English River Miners (SIJHL). The Thunderbirds have a busy week, hosting the Beavers at the John Rhodes Community Centre on Tuesday, travelling to Sudbury for a game with the Nickel Barons on Wednesday, then hosting the Wildcats on Saturday night and the Gold Miners on Sunday afternoon.

7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (2-4-0-1) — The Voodoos did not play a game this past week. Transactions: None. They will travel to Cochrane for a game against the Crunch on Friday night and will then take on the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Saturday night.

8. (8-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (0-8-0-0) — After seven-straight losses on the road, the Blackhawks dropped their home opener at the Mike Rodden Arena, 6-4 to the Crunch. If the Blackhawks are going to turn things around, they are going to have to cut down on the number of shots they give up and the amount of time they spend in the penalty box. Goalies Joe Sheppard (285:50, 7.14, .848) and Josh Horner (194:10, 8.03, .795) have faced more shots than any other duo in the NOJHL this season, although that might have more to do with how many times they have faced the Crunch than how poor their defensive zone coverage is this season. The Blackhawks traded their leading goal scorer, ex-Gold Miner Alex Hulford (7, 5-1-6, 6), to the Blind River Beavers. That is a strange move for a team that has not had a lot of offence this season. Kyle Baril (5, 3-3-6, 9) has been their most consistent forward, Christian Sgroi (8, 2-4-6, 19), Colin Nicholson (8, 1-5-6, 8) and Tyler Broderson (8, 2-3-5, 6) have been putting up decent numbers. Transactions: Troy Taylor traded to London Nationals (GOJHL), Cole Gilligan acquired from the Beavers, Alex Hulford traded to the Beavers, Kyle Huhn traded to the Beavers, Matthew Whidden traded to High River Flyers. The Blackhawks play the Eskimos in Timmins Friday night, then return home to the Mike Rodden Arena for another meeting with the Crunch Saturday night.

9. (9-0) Blind River Beavers (0-7-0-0) — The Beavers have been outscored 62-11 this season and their recent three game road trip didn’t help those stats one bit. The Beavers dropped a 6-2 decision in Cochrane, were shutout 9-0 by the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake the following night and then bashed 11-2 by the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Saturday night. Even with the addition of Hulford, from the Blackhawks, the Beavers continue to have trouble scoring goals. Only Matt Neault (7, 3-2-5, 10) and Dallas Miller (6, 3-0-3, 24) have scored more than one goal this season. Goalies Zach Mills (244:07, 8.85, .772) and Nick Kazmierczak (175:53, 8.87, .792) have struggled. Transactions: Alex Chandler acquired from the Eskimos, Cole Gilligan traded to the Blackhawks, Alex Hulford acquired from the Blackhawks, Nick Mardirossian acquired from the Wildcats, Alex Cyrene acquired from the Wildcats, Kyle Huhn acquired from the Blackhawks. The Beavers are expecting a wave of reinforcements to arrive shortly and hopefully they will help to stabilize the struggling franchise.