Monthly Archives: April 2012

NOJHL suspends Thunderbird coaches

Head coach Preston Mizzi and his top assistant Jamie Henderson will not be accompanying the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Dudley Hewitt Cup champion Soo Thunderbirds to the Royal Bank Cup national tournament.

Mizzi and Henderson have both been suspended indefinitely by NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca following a lengthy investigation into alleged reports of off-ice misconduct relating to the Thunderbird organization.

For more, see my latest column at www.juniorhockey.com.

Soo Thunderbirds win Dudley Hewitt Cup

Soo Thunderbirds have won the franchise’s first-ever Dudley Hewitt Cup and in the process become the first Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League team to win the Central Canada Jr. Hockey title since the Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats did so in 2002.

Despite being outshot 47-18, the Thunderbirds edged the Ontario Jr. Hockey League champion Stouffville Spirit 5-3 tonight to win the DHC and advance to the Royal Bank Cup, national playdowns, that will be held in Humboldt, Sask. next month.

Soo Thunderbirds under investigation

The office of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League has authorized a third-party, independent investigator to look into reports of alleged off-ice misconduct involving members of the Soo Thunderbirds organization.

I have been advised that the person conducting the investigation on behalf of the NOJHL is a retired Ontario Provincial Police officer.

The regular-season and playoff champion Thunderbirds are headed to Thunder Bay next week to represent the NOJHL at the four-team, Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada Jr. Hockey Championships.

The latest on the Abitibi Eskimos

Abitibi Eskimos are the pride of Iroquois Falls and surrounding area, a jewel of a Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League franchise.

The Eskimos have been a part of the NOJHL for 13 years and are considered a model club, operating out of a small town of 5,000 and playing out of stately Jus Jordan Arena, aka the Igloo.

It takes considerable hard work from volunteers and a good chunk of cash to operate a franchise in the NOJHL and no where is that more true than in the northeastern Ontario town of Iroquois Falls.

The good news is that the folks who operate the Abitibi franchise have overseen 13 years of fundraising that has brought in $2.5 million. The bad news is that the team has spent $2.65 million in the 13 years, which is a shortfall of $150,000.

Eskimos president Scott Marshall, who heads up an 11-person Board of Directors and another 50 volunteers, told me today that his group has never tried to sell the flagship NOJHL franchise.

However, since the 2011-12 NOJHL season ended for the Eskimos, Marshall told me that they have been approached by two groups looking to purchase the Abitibi franchise.

“One group was more serious than the other,” said Marshall. “We have had a series of meetings with the more-serious group.”

The end result, however, is that the Eskimos are staying in Iroquois Falls at the beloved Igloo and will not be changing ownership.

“It was tempting to say ‘maybe we should just sell’ because running the hockey club is very consumming and it can be very exhausting,” Marshall added. “But if we sold the team, the buyer was going to relocate and we couldn’t stand the thought of not having the Abitibi Eskimos in Iroquois Falls.”

Marshall confirmed that if sold, the Eskimos would have wound up in nearby Timmins.

“Nothing against Timmins as we get a lot of fans from there but they don’t have an arena that is suitable for the NOJHL. To be honest, I think we have the best facility in the NOJHL,” Marshall said evenly.

Having decide to stay put, Marshall said the Eskimos are also intent on increasing their budget from $225,000 a year to $300,000 in an effort “to become a better franchise. The status quo is not going to fly.”

In order to try to achieve that goal, the Eskimos are going to establish the “Igloomaniac Wall of Fame” in which any citizen or business who makes an “outright donation” of $500 or more gets his, her or its name on a wall at Jus Jordan Arena.

As well, the Eskimos hope to raise an additional $100,000 in corporate advertising and sponsorship as opposed to the $60,000 per annum that they normally come up with.

“We have no problem with our attendance,” Marshall added. “We draw 40 per cent of our fans from regions outside of Iroquois Falls. Our attendance is good.”

To be sure, the Eskimos averaged 610 fans per game during the 2011-12 season. Only the North Bay Trappers (664) and the Michigan Soo Eagles (638) averaged more than the pesky Eskis.

Marshall also noted that since word began to circulate that the Eskimos might be sold and moved out of Iroquois Falls, new supporters have “come out of the woodwork. It’s almost been like a rallying cry.”

Major winds of change

NOJHL, NOHA APPROVES ELLIOT LAKE

Elliot Lake is poised to return to the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League effective the 2012-13 season. Elliot Lake, which left the NOJHL in 1999, has been home to a successful Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League franchise for the past five years. But Ryan Leonard, who owns, manages and coaches the Elliot Lake Bobcats, recently decided to depart the non-sanctioned GMJHL in the hopes of getting an NOJHL franchise. Well, NOJHL governors formally approved the awarding of an NOJHL franchise to Leonard and Elliot Lake late last week and the Northern Ontario Hockey Association has also given its go-ahead. All Elliot Lake needs now is Ontario Hockey Federation approval and the Bobcats will officially be a part of the NOJHL.

NOJHL VISITS ST. IGNACE

A Sault Ste. Marie group has made a conditional offer to purchase the Soo Eagles NOJHL franchise and move it to St. Ignace, Michigan effective the 2012-13 season. St. Ignace is a mere 49 miles from the International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie. The proposed purchase and relocation of the Eagles NOJHL franchise to St. Ignace will ultimately have to go to USA Hockey for its consideration. The Michigan-based Eagles, of course, have left the NOJHL to join the North American Hockey League effective the 2012-13 campaign.

ESKIMOS TO TIMMINS?

Well-placed sources say a Timmins businessman has made a substantial offer to purchase the Iroquois Falls-based Abitibi Eskimos. Should the deal go through, the Eskimos would likely be moved from Iroquois Falls to Timmins. Whatever the case, long-time Eskimos coach-general manager Paul Gagne would remain in charge of the hockey department. As for venerable Abitibi president Scott Marshall, if he does not remain part of the potential new group, he will reportedly be asked to join the NOJHL League Office that is led by first-year commissioner Robert Mazzuca.

NEW LOOK IN BLIND RIVER

Hockey boss Jim Capy and his trusted associate Jim Yardanoff are done in Blind River after five seasons spanning two separate stints. Capy and Yardanoff combined to lead the Beavers to three winning seasons during their five years in the Milltown. While Capy and Yardanoff had some regular-season success over their five years, the Beavers were a playoff disaster under their watch. During their five years together in Blind River, Capy and Yardanoff failed to lead the Beavers to a single playoff-series triumph. In all, Capy and Yardanoff depart Blind River with a playoff win-loss record of 3-20. With Capy and Yardanoff having tendered their resignations, the Blind River franchise is reportedly in the process of being sold from a community-owned group to one headed up long-time Sudbury junior coach Bryan Verreault.

CUBS CLEAN HOUSE

While details remain sketchy, Sudbury Cubs owner Bill Scott has fired president-general manager Scott Ginson and head coach Rod MacKenzie.