It’s a long way from worst to first in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
Living the high life at the top with the best winning percentage in the nine-team NOJHL are the Soo Thunderbirds with a record of 28-4-6, good for 62 points.
At the extreme end, at the very bottom of the NOJHL, are the Blind River Beavers with one point from a record of 0-38-1.
That’s right, one point.
What has happened to the Beavers of Blind River? It used to be better, so much better.
In fact, in a seven-year span from 2004-2011 the Beavers produced six winning seasons and were a model of a small-market franchise.
But it has been all downhill since the 2010-2011 season.
Since then, the Beavers have produced records of 8-40-2 in 2011-2012, 13-27-8 in 2012-2013, 10-42-4 in 2013-2014 and 0-38-1 thus far this 2014-2015 season.
Add up the awful numbers since 2011-2012 and they compute to 31 wins, 147 losses and 15 overtime setbacks.
At any rate, as the Beavers have bottomed out, it is winning as usual for the Thunderbirds, who enter play this week with their 62 points and in a virtual tie for the lead with the defending champion Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
(Kirkland Lake also has 62 points but the Soo has one game in hand.)
The Thunderbirds and Gold Miners faced off last weekend in the Soo and all was even as the two teams skated to a 3-3, double-overtime tie.
While all is well on ice with the Thunderbirds, there is behind-the-scenes concern about the lowly Beavers.
As Blind River has struggled to compete with its awful record of 0-38-1 — the Beavers have scored only 73 goals while allowing 262 — the fan base in the Milltown area has taken a major hit with average crowds well below the 200 mark. Worse, corporate sponsorship and support is also down and the Beavers bills are piling up.
Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain, who is one of the best at his position in the Junior A hockey game, can feel for what is going on with the Beavers.
Cain spent a couple of years with the Beavers as an assistant coach and has a warm spot in his heart for the fans of Blind River.
“Hopefully they can turn it around at some point,” Cain said of the Beavers on a recent edition of the Hockey North Show on ESPN 1400 Radio. “Blind River is a good little hockey town.”