Monthly Archives: March 2012

TRAPPERS V. THUNDERBIRDS

The no. 5 team in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League is going to the big dance with the no. 1 squad.

The upstart North Bay Trappers, who finished 18 points back of the regular-season champion Soo Thunderbirds, are four wins away from completing a magic carpet ride.

North Bay upset the Abitibi Eskimos in five games in the first round of the playoffs before stunning the high-octane Sudbury Cubs in seven games in the second round to advance to the finals against the Thunderbirds.

The Thunderbirds have barely broken a sweat in this spring’s playoffs with seven wins in eight outings, including a four-game sweep of the reigning champion Soo Eagles in the second round.

North Bay, to be sure, is going to have to play to its utmost if it hopes to continue its peak playoff performance.

The Trappers are a well-coached team but lack the depth and junior hockey experience of the Thunderbirds.

Still, North Bay has balance of its own, especially up front with Brad Gehl, Matthew Salituro, Danny Desrochers, Brandon Janke and Corbin Bean leading the way.

In goal, North Bay product Mitchell Knight is the flavour of the moment but it remains to be seen if he can out-tend John Kleinhans of the Thunderbirds.

Led by lamplighters Micky Sartoretto, Matt Amadio and Brett Campbell, the Thunderbirds have four lines that can roll and a blueline led by Corey Jackson that is high grade.

PREDICTION: The Soo should win this series in six but I will not be surprised in the least if North Bay prevails.

NOJHL FINAL FOUR FORECAST

It’s three down and four to go on the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League playoff run.

Abitibi Eskimos, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Blind River Beavers are on the sidelines until next season, leaving the North Bay Trappers, Sudbury Cubs, Soo Thunderbirds and the reigning champion Soo Eagles in this year’s title hunt.

North Bay will face Sudbury in one best-of-seven semi-final while the Twin Soo teams will do border battle in the other.

SUDBURY V. NORTH BAY

The first-place Cubs swept cellar-dwelling Kirkland Lake in four straight in the opening round while the third-place Trappers netted a surprising five-game triumph of Abitibi. Sudbury begins this series as the favourite led by the three-pronged scoring exploits of Jordan Carroll, Jamie Haines and Nick Esposto. While the Cubs can light it up there are question marks about their goaltending, defence and discipline, not to mention a lack of coaching experience. North Bay, on the other hand, having won its first playoff series under the Trapper moniker, is playing good all-around hockey. 20-year old retread Brad Gehl had nine goals in the series win over Abitibi and Matthew Salituro and Brandon Janke are also riding high. North Bay has its own question mark between the pipes, though Carmine Alfano won both of his starts and had a 1.96 goals against average and .909 save percentage against a tough Abitibi team. I am going to roll the dice and go with the upset here. NORTH BAY IN SIX.

THUNDERBIRDS V. EAGLES

The Thunderbirds, who have finished in first place in each of the past two regular seasons, will be out to avenge last spring’s playoff loss to the Michigan-based Eagles. An award-winning, all-star laden outfit, the Thunderbirds have the NOJHL’s best team on paper led by forwards Micky Sartoretto, Matt Amadio, Brett Campbell, Nick Romano, Jake Wright, Greg Sartoretto and Kevin Michelcavage, defencemen Corey Jackson and Brad Pascall and goalie John Kleinhans. But never underestimate the Eagles and the likes of forwards Brian Depp, Dallas McLaughlin and Matt Wiggemansen, defencemen Derek Diaz (who still has two games to serve on a questionable eight-game suspension) and Tyler Jones and goalies Luis Puig and Chris Truehl. This series could be the swan song for the Eagles, who will depart for the North American Hockey League effective the 2012-13 season. I like the Eagles a lot but methinks the Thunderbirds have more to prove. THUNDERBIRDS IN SIX.

TWO GOOD GOALIES ARE BETTER THAN ONE

It’s somewhat of a given that John Kleinhans of the Soo Thunderbirds is the best goalie in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

For one, the 1991 birth year tender from Sterling Heights, Michigan had the best numbers of any NOJHL goalie during the regular season: a 26-9 win-loss record to go with a .912 save percentage, 2.86 goals against average and 5 shutouts.

It also helps that Kleinhans is in his third full NOJHL season — he spent his first two with the Michigan Soo Eagles — and his save percentage has always been above the .900 mark.

Kleinhans has been a workhorse for the Thunderbirds this season as the NOJHL regular-season league leaders have gone through three backup goalies.

The Eagles, on the other hand, have the luxury of two no. 1 goalies in 1991 birth year Luis Puig and 1993 youngster Chris Truehl.

If Kleinhans is the best goalie in the NOJHL, then it says here that Puig and Truehl are tied for second.

The 6-foot-3, 195 lb. Puig, who hails from the north side of Chicago, put up good numbers of his own during the 2011-12 regular season. He shrugged off a concussion and subsequent mid-season slump to finish strong and with these numbers: 11-4-2 record, .894 save pct. and 3.73 GAA.

Puig has also posted three shutouts this season — including one in the opening game of the playoffs — and remarkably, all three have been in Blind River, which has been known to be a goalie’s worst nightmare with its tiny ice surface and dim lightning.

Puig, who joined the Eagles earlier this season from the North American Hockey League’s Michigan Warriors, is a late bloomer and is only in his second season of junior.

Truehl, who hails from just outside Madison, Wisconsin, has also excelled this season, his first in the junior ranks. The lanky kid with the quick glove and textbook style was 14-3-1 with a .907 save pct. and 3.31 GAA — and played some of his best games against the first-place Thunderbirds.

To me, the Thunderbirds are a better overall team than the Eagles in terms of junior experience, talent and depth. And I really like Kleinhans as a goalie.

But given my druthers, I’d rather have two good goalies like Puig and Truehl to choose from.

Just my thoughts.

NOJHL FIRST ROUND PLAYOFF PREVIEW

It’s playoff season in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

The post-season begins on various fronts this weekend with two best-of-seven sets in the East Division and a round-robin format in the West Division in which all three teams will play one another twice.

Here is how I have the first round pegged.

EAST DIVISION

SUDBURY-KIRKLAND LAKE. Led by 70-goal scorer and league MVP Jordan Carroll, the first-place Cubs are overwhelming favourites to dispose of the last-place Gold Miners. While Kirkland Lake could surprise and win a game or two backed by rookie goaltending sensation Ken Appleby, it’s a stretch to think the Gold Miners can beat Sudbury four times. PREDICTION: Sudbury in 5.

ABITIBI-NORTH BAY. The Eskimos have home-ice advantage over the Trappers and like many fans from both teams, I am thinking this series will go seven games. Abitibi features 121-point scorer Marc-Alain Begin but let’s not forget Richard Therrien and his 44 goals. North Bay has eight players who scored in double figures led by Matthew Salituro, Brad Edwards, Brad Gehl and rookie plum Danny Desrochers. The key to this series for me is what temperature Abitibi’s hot-and-cold goalie J.P. Fecteau plays at at. If Fecteau is on, the Trappers will be out. PREDICTION: Abitibi in seven.

WEST DIVISION

The two teams with the best records will emerge from the round-robin and advance to a normal, best-of-seven, second round series. Soo Thunderbirds and Soo Eagles finished 1-2 in the NOJHL’s overall standings while the Blind River Beavers won just eight of 50 regular-season games. But beating Blind River will not be easy as the Beavers are a hard-working, well-coached team. In the goaltending department, the Thunderbirds have the edge in experience with third-year stopper John Kleinhans but I also really like the Eagles two-man tandem of 20-year old Luis Puig and 18-year old Chris Truehl. PREDICTION: I’ll go with the Thunderbirds to finish with a 3-1 record, the Eagles 2-2 and the Beavers 1-3.