Daily Archives: July 19, 2012

Midsummer musings

The first puck will drop on the 2012-13 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular season on September 5.

In the meantime, as we wait for July to turn to August and August to September, here are a few NOJHL-related questions that should be answered at some point in the weeks and months ahead.

As the seven-team NOJHL adopts a 48-game, balanced schedule, travel costs will go up. But will interest and attendance increase with all teams playing one another eight times apiece instead of the previous unbalanced schedule? For example, Soo Thunderbirds played Blind River Beavers 13 times during the 2011-12 NOJHL season while facing off against the North Bay Trappers on only six occasions.

How will Elliot Lake Bobcats fare in the higher-level NOJHL after five successful seasons in the non-sanctioned, Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League? The Bobcats, to be sure, are not short on hockey knowledge and dedication led by 32-year old owner-general manager-coach Ryan Leonard and his player personnel department of Chad Vresk, Brad Boyer and Charly Murray.

Will the tragedy-stricken town of Elliot Lake rally around the Bobcats? Elliot Lake, to be sure, has a lengthy junior hockey history that began with the old Vikings of the erstwhile International Jr. B Hockey League. As Elliot Lake begins its recovery from the mall disaster, the Bobcats are prepping for their first NOJHL season and hoping for the backing of the close-knit town.

Will the latest Sudbury franchise make a go of it with a new owner in Mike Mooney Jr. and respectable NOJHL veterans Oscar Clouthier and Dave Clancy on board as general manager and coach, respectively? From the Northern Wolves to the Jr. Wolves to the Cubs, we now have the Nickel Barons in Sudbury.

Can the Thunderbirds repeat as NOJHL champions? That won’t be easy with North Bay Trappers loading up with savvy veteran Tim Clayden calling the shots as director of hockey operations. But the Thunderbirds have no slouch of their own in general manager Kevin Cain who has been the best at his job in each of his two previous seasons with the Soo team.

Can new Thunderbirds bench boss Warren Lavoy have success as a head coach after years as an NOJHL assistant with the Birds, Blind River and the erstwhile Soo Indians? Lavoy has been a part of two NOJHL championship teams as an assistant, one with the Indians and a second with the Thunderbirds, both in a span of five seasons.

With the kinder, gentler coach-management team of Doug McEwen, David McCaig and Rusty Joncas in place will Blind River Beavers be able to win back a legion of lost fans and once again become the talk of Milltown? Blind River is a good hockey town. Its fans and advertisers merely want the Beavers to be competitive and be able to associate with the coaches and general manager. Which is not a lot to ask, methinks.

With all of this Soo-Sudbury-North Bay talk, will the Abitibi Eskimos be this season’s sleeper team? Or will it be the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners led by new coach Marc Lafleur?