All seven teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League — regardless of stature or market size — are of equal importance when it comes to the present and future of the tidy association.
At least that is the way most reasonable NOJHLers see the picture.
But the new three-year lease that North Bay Trappers recently negotiated with the City-owned Memorial Gardens may be the most important occurence within the NOJHL over the last while.
The Trappers are fresh from a previous, three-year agreement with the City of North Bay that was, quite frankly, not overly sweet in comparison to what other teams in the NOJHL have with their respective towns.
As well, in comparison to Nipissing University’s hockey team — which shares Memorial Gardens with the Trappers — North Bay’s NOJHL team was treated somewhat like a second-class citizen by the City.
But without getting into all of that, the Trappers have a brand new deal with the City of North Bay — an agreement that is better than the previous one.
Which is not only good news for the Trappers, it’s good news for the rest of the NOJHL.
Personally, I am happy for the Trappers and the good people who lead the organization, beginning with chairman and director of operations Tim Clayden, his general manager Chris Dawson and their hand-picked coach, former Ontario Hockey League and National Hockey League first-rounder, Tom McCarthy.
Players moving on out-number those who are coming back.
Still, the reigning NOJHL and Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada champion Soo Thunderbirds will return an assortment of players for the 2012-13 season, all of whom who have varying upsides.
18-goal gunner Kurtis Barbarie, 17-goal lamplighter Greg Sartoretto, 13-goal producer Derek Battagin and 10-goal grinder Darcy Casola are among the returning forwards for the Thunderbirds, who will also welcome top-scoring defenceman Corey Jackson and dependable defender Jeremy Solomon back into the nest for the 2012-13 NOJHL campaign.
Also slated to return is Quebec import Joey Couture, a fibrous forward who joined the Thunderbirds late last season. And Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain tells me that he expects to know the status of third-year left winger Jake Wright within the week. Wright is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick of Sarnia Sting.
To be sure, the Birds have lost of bevy of NOJHL standouts to graduation, including all-star and playoff MVP goalie John Kleinhans, high-scoring forwards Micky Sartoretto, Matt Amadio, Brett Campbell and Kevin Michelcavage and blueliners Kris Barclay and James Delayer.
Gone by way of relocation to other Jr. A leagues are defencemen Dylan Connolly and Josh Hicks.
Cain, two-time GM-of-the-year, remains as a constant in the front office but the coaching staff has a different look.
Veteran NOJHL assistant Warren Lavoy gets his shot at being headmaster and Dennis Bolton has joined the Thunderbirds as an associate after four seasons with Soo Eagles, who have departed the NOJHL for the North American Hockey League.
Of all the holes to fill on the 2012-13 edition — and there are many — the biggest gap is between the pipes with the departure of the American-born Kleinhans.
But Cain told me that he feels incoming netminder Steve Dombrosky is “more than capable” of stepping into the starter’s role.
Dombrosky, a 1993 birth year from the USA, began the 2011-12 season in the NOJHL with Soo Eagles before finishing up with the AAA midget Soo Indians.