Daily Archives: May 16, 2012

NOJHL is in good hands with Mazzuca

The revolving door of the commissioner’s office has stopped spinning.

Robert Mazzuca has just completed his first season as commissioner of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and with his contract having been extended for two more years, the position finally has some sense, structure and stability to it.

Not since the legendary Joe Drago was commissioner has the NOJHL been in the command of someone as firm, focused and progressive as Mazzuca, a Sudbury native who just turned 50-years old on May 13.

Since Drago — a retired high school principal and erstwhile owner-general manager of the Ontario Hockey League Sudbury Wolves — left the NOJHL for subsequent executive positions with, first, the Ontario Hockey Federation and now Hockey Canada, the commissioner’s office had lacked stability.

Since 2005, Art Yeo, Wayne Stickland, Mark Seidel and Hector Seguin all wore the NOJHL’s commissioner’s hat before Mazzuca was brought aboard last summer.

Mazzuca, to be sure, has had a major impact on the NOJHL in less than a year on the job.

Under his watch, the NOJHL has introduced a concussion safety program, anti-doping legislation and expanded its scholarship fund for the players.

Mazzuca has also ruled with an iron hand, adding supplemental discipline to players tagged with automatic suspensions for dangerous infractions such as checking from behind. He also acted on evidence gathered by an independent, third-party investigator to dish out indefinite suspensions to two Soo Thunderbird coaches on the eve of the recently completed, Royal Bank Cup national junior tournament.

Mazzuca’s savvy was evident in early January of this year when he worked feverishly to help save the NOJHL in Kirkland Lake after original ownership folded the franchise with little notice.

Having sensed trouble with the original owner in Kirkland Lake, Mazzuca was front and centre in quickly setting up new owners with very little disruption to the 2011-2012 regular-season schedule.

And just recently, Mazzuca played a major role in welcoming the well-run Elliot Lake Bobcats franchise to the NOJHL from the non-sanctioned, Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League.

Where does Mazzuca find the time to oversee the day-to-day operations of the NOJHL while working full-time as an investment adviser in Sudbury, where he also owns a number of properties?

“I guess you can say I am well-organized and that I manage my time well,” said Mazzuca, who works out of an office that he affectionately calls the “bunker” in the Sudbury home that he shares with his wife and their four children.

He’s also well-connected in the hockey world. He has a special relationship with Drago — who owned and managed the OHL Wolves when Mazzuca was the team’s star defenceman after being a first-round pick in 1979 — and has upper-level contacts in both Canada and the United States.

Mazzuca, who closed out his junior hockey career in 1983 after being a late-season, over-age acquisition of the Soo Greyhounds, went on to play at St. Francis Xavier University, where he graduated before moving back to Sudbury, his hometown.

Confident and personable, Mazzuca is also accessible and hands-on in his role as NOJHL commissioner.

“I like to know what’s going on with all the teams in the league,” he told me. “The more I know and am aware of, the better prepared I can be and the fewer surprises there will be.”

Mazzuca knows it’s not easy trying to please all members of the seven-team NOJHL and realizes that the tough decisions are not going to be popular ones.

But he has the respect of the majority of the NOJHL governors, including highly regarded Abitibi Eskimos president Scott Marshall, who is the dean of the league’s power brokers.

“He’s a very smart guy,” Marshall told me the last time we talked, a few weeks back. “Rob has been very, very good for our league. He’s given us a vision and a plan. He works hard at the job and takes it very seriously.”

Overall, the NOJHL, it would surely seem, is in pretty good shape as it stands.

Like any Jr. A hockey league — be it in Canada or the United States — there will always be problem areas, concerns and franchises teetering on existence.

Grassroots is where the NOJHL is at and the majority of the seven franchises are stable, from Abitibi, North Bay and Kirkland Lake in the east to the Soo and the new kids in Elliot Lake on the west side.

Sudbury and Blind River could change ownership before the start of next season and you can bet the commissioner’s office will be keeping tabs on what happens there.

In other words, there’s no rest for Mazzuca from this so-called part-time job of his.