Daily Archives: June 22, 2012

Changes within the Big Three

For starters, a pair of respected, former champions are making a return to the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

In fact, the NOJHL’s “Big Three” franchises from the larger centres of North Bay, Sudbury and the Soo will all have a decidedly-different look when the first puck drops on the 2012-13 season in September.

SUDBURY

They used to be known as the Sudbury Northern Wolves, then the Sudbury Jr. Wolves, then the Sudbury Cubs.

Now, with new owner Mike Mooney Jr. in place, they are the Sudbury Nickel Barons.

But while the owner and name are new, the Nickel Barons have dipped into Sudbury’s NOJHL past by bringing good guy Dave Clancy on board as head coach.

Clancy has a championship to his credit from when Sudbury was the Jr. Wolves and owned by the Ontario Hockey League Sudbury Wolves.

Known as a player’s coach who can be tough when he has to, Clancy is a good, safe, dependable hire for the Nickel Barons, who under new owner Mooney and general manager Oscar Clouthier will try to establish a solid NOJHL franchise in a hockey town that is dominated by the OHL Wolves.

Can that be done out at McClelland Arena in the sleepy Greater Sudbury town of Copper Cliff?

Properly marketed and properly run, there’s no reason why the Nickel Barons can’t make a go of it in an area where the OHL is the no. 1 draw.

Afterall, Soo Thunderbirds have managed to increase their following over the past couple of years in a city where the Greyhounds and the OHL are the no. 1 draw.

The Nickel Barons, to be sure, have experienced hockey people on board in the GM’s office and in the coach’s corner.

GM Clouthier has spent time in both the OHL and NOJHL in scouting, managerial positions and Coach Clancy also has past ties to both leagues.

NORTH BAY

As the NOJHL in Sudbury and the Soo plays second line behind the OHL, the Trappers of North Bay compete with the Nipissing University Lakers for fan support and media coverage in the Gateway City.

With a reputable coach already in place in Tom McCarthy, who will begin his second season in North Bay in the fall, the Trappers have brought in one of the most-respected executives in Canadian Jr. A hockey to run the show.

Tim Clayden, who was a behind-the-scenes force when North Bay was known as the Skyhawks and Guy Blanchard was taking the bows for three straight championships beginning with the 2002-03 season, is back in town as the Trappers new sheriff.

Clayden, who followed his NOJHL success with the old Skyhawks by annually building contending teams in the ultra-competitive Ontario Jr. Hockey League, takes charge of the Trappers as director of hockey operations, while retaining a deep, dedicated staff that includes Coach McCarthy, president and general manager Chris Dawson, vice president Dean Pauli and assistant GM Randy Blake.

Known as a true hockey guy and a wheeler-dealer with coast-to-coast contacts, Clayden enhances the credibility of the Trappers and strengthens the hockey and business departments as the team prepares to play host to the 2013 Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada Jr. Championships.

A no-nonsense individual with a reputation of being tough but fair, there isn’t much doubt in the minds of junior hockey insiders that the Trappers are positioned for the long run with Clayden at the helm.

SOO

With erstwhile head coach Preston Mizzi beginning a two-year suspension from the NOJHL and primary assistant Jamie Henderson cooling his heels for a year in the wake of a league investigation into alleged alcohol use on the team bus involving staff and players, the reigning champion Thunderbirds are in a state of rebuild.

It has been learned that secondary assistant Warren LaVoy has applied for the vacant head coaching position and it is known that general manager Kevin Cain has reached out to cerebral, level-headed Dennis Bolton about a position within the Thunderbird organization.

Bolton, a retired corrections officer, has spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with the Soo Eagles, who have departed the NOJHL for the North American Hockey League effective the upcoming season.

“I can only confirm that I have been approached by the GM of the T-Birds to consider assuming a role within their organization. I would say that at this point I have no aspirations to become a head coach,” Bolton told me via e-mail. “I’d imagine that the T-Birds will be making an announcement about their coaching staff in the near future.”

It should be noted that Bolton has a standing offer from Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo to remain with the Michigan-based franchise as it prepares for its move to the NAHL.

The popular choice to lead the Thunderbirds as head coach is Toots Kovacs, who bailed out Cain and the entire Thunderbird organization when he stepped in as interim coach when Mizzi and Henderson were initially suspended indefinitely just prior to the team taking part in the Royal Bank Cup national junior tournament in May.

But Kovacs has career job commitments that make it difficult for him to assume a full role with the Thunderbirds, though he did tell me he would be available to assist on an “as needed” basis if he was asked.

To be sure, the Thunderbird organization is in a state of uncertainty.

Despite winning the NOJHL and Dudley Hewitt Cup championships during the 2011-12 season, the reputation of the franchise took a hit with all of the self-imposed negatvity that resulted from the alleged, repeated incidents of alcohol abuse on the team bus.

Thunderbird owner Albert Giommi has since put the team up for sale, saying he needs to concentrate on the businesses that he owns. But Giommi has been known to change his mind and to be impetuous and impulsive when it comes to running his hockey team.

Still, Giommi has done a lot to try to enhance the Thunderbirds profile in Sault Ste. Marie and deserves credit for his work on the business side of the franchise.