Author Archives: Randy Russon

Radke is ready to roll

He is often overshadowed by two of his fellow defencemen, namely Tyler Jones and Owen Headrick.

But while Jones was named best defenceman and Headrick rookie-of-the-year in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, David Radke is also a much-valued member of the Soo Thunderbirds.

Fresh from a 99-point regular season and playoff-series wins over Blind River Beavers and Abitibi Eskimos, the first-place Thunderbirds will face second-seeded Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in a best-of-seven championship series that begins on Saturday night at the Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

And as he has done all season long, Radke will be counted on to play major minutes as one of the Thunderbirds top three or four defencemen.

To be sure, Radke has flourished in this, his second season with the Thunderbirds.

“He has really stepped up his game from last season to this season,” Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain said of Radke. “He is playing with a lot more confidence and I think that stems from the fact that he is a lot stronger and faster than he was last year.”

At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Radke does not have the size of defensive mates Jones or Headrick. But his strength, agility and increased foot speed have made the 1994 birth-year defender a better National Collegiate Athletic Association prospect.

Playing at the NCAA level represents a goal for Radke, who already has the academic part of the equation in place.

For the second straight season, Radke was named the Thunderbirds scholastic player-of-the-year.

“Playing NCAA hockey is something I have wanted for a long time now,” said Radke, whose older brother Dan just completed a four-year career at Lake Superior State University as a solid forward and academic standout as — get this — a mathematics major.

“I would love to follow in my brother’s footsteps and play Division 1 hockey,” said Radke.

Soo v. KL

Soo Thunderbirds and Kirkland Lake Gold Miners finished 1-2 during the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular season.

Thus, it seems only right that the Soo and Kirkland Lake have emerged from the first two rounds of the playoffs and will face off in a best-of-seven series for the NOJHL championship.

The set will begin in the Soo with Games 1 and 2 slated for Saturday and Sunday nights at 7:30 at the Essar Centre.

For the record, the Soo disposed of Blind River Beavers in five games and Abitibi Eskimos in four straight to reach the finals.

Kirkland Lake is unbeaten thus far in the playoffs, having swept both the North Bay Trappers and Espanola Rivermen.

These are two teams, the Soo and Kirkland Lake, with major upsides.

Both have good goaltenders, quality defenceman and depth on the forward lines, complete with impact players.

On the subject of goaltending, the Thunderbirds boast the NOJHL’s most valuable player and first-team all-star Joel Horodziejczyk.

But Horodziejczyk is sidelined with a lower-body injury and has not played since a Game 1 loss in the first round to Blind River.

In his place, Brian Kment has stepped in to play eight straight games, all of which the Thunderbirds have won.

Is Kment as good as Horodziejczyk?

Let’s just say that Kment’s playoff record of 8-0 with a 1.74 goals against average and .925 save percentage is a good one.

The Soo-KL series, to be sure, will feature considerable travel with the two towns a good seven-hour drive apart.

On ice, this looms as a matchup similar to a year ago when the Thunderbirds played North Bay in the finals and the Trappers won in seven games.

It starts with the coaches.

Both the Thunderbirds and Gold Miners are well-coached with Jordan Smith guiding the Soo bench and Marc Lafleur calling the shots for KL.

The goaltending should not be an issue either way, even if Horodziejczyk does not return to the Soo net. Not only as Kment played better and better as the playoffs have progressed, the rookie goalie has the confidence of the coaching staff.

Kirkland Lake, on the other hand, is in the good goaltending hands of starter Jeremy Pominville and backup Kenny Fitzgerald.

On the blueline, both teams have skilled puck-movers with Tyler Jones, Owen Headrick and David Radke as the Thunderbirds main go-to-guys and Dan Morin and Jeremy Picard-Fiset a pair of high-end Gold Miners.

Offensively, while the Soo can unleash Gavin Burbach, Darcy Haines and Anthony Miller, KL can counter with the likes of Samuel Wilbur, Steve Babin and Austin Rust.

What will decide this series?

A coin-flip perhaps?

Seriously, this has the makings of a series — regardless of length — that will be dominated by one-goal games.

For the third straight spring, the Thunderbirds are playing for the NOJHL championship. Standing in the way of the Soo winning for the second time in three years is a talented lot from Kirkland Lake.

Good thing I am not a betting man. Because I would not know who to put my money on.

From the Espanola Rivermen


April 2, 2014, ESPANOLA, ONTARIO

Espanola Rivermen SEATS for game 4 on sale today and tomorrow all day to 8 pm at the Regional Recreation Complex front desk.

ESPANOLA, Ontario – The Espanola Rivermen are on the brink of elimination being down 3 games to none to the 2nd place
Kirkland Lake Goldminers with game 4 of the series set tomorrow night, starting at 7:30 pm at the Espanola Regional Recreation Complex.

Complex seats are hard to come by for Rivermen tickets this season and all are on sale at the Complex Front Desk
for North Shore fans interested in sitting for game 4 of the semi-finals.

The Thursday night game was imposed and insisted on by NOJHL Commissioner Robert Mazucca prior to the series commencing where Rivermen home games all season have typically and primarily been Friday nights in Espanola.

Rivermen Team Governor/Director of Operations Tim Clayden couldn’t resist in commenting on the imposed semi-finals schedule stating, “our team is pretty much over Commissioner Mazzuca’s insisted schedule, fully understanding the hidden agenda & why behind it, our team is over it, but I will never forgive the man or the League for allowing the Commissioner to insult our Complex Staff and again impose his absolute power against our hockey team as he has since August and more importantly for inconveniencing our area junior hockey fans, many that drive every week with their families some 90 minutes to and from on Friday nights to enjoy a Riverman junior hockey game as their weekly North Shore family entertainment. Frankly it wasn’t fair treatment of our team, the Complex Staff or North Shore junior hockey fans and it will not be forgotten” said Clayden.

“our players are above it all, the young men on our hockey club have been first class all season long as we moved into our new junior hockey
home in just our first season of many here in Espanola, win or lose tomorrow night, these kids can all hold their heads high for the so many accomplishments they have helped our team and the community to achieve here in Espanola this season, both on and off the ice. As it was loudly stated for all to hear at our Awards Banquet 2 weeks ago, their can only be one league winner, but on this team and in this community,the junior hockey players on this team this season are all winners,” proudly stated Clayden “don’t count this group of young men out just yet.”

moving forward


Game 4: Thursday, April 3 @ Espanola 7:30 p.m

NOJHL to Lindenwood University

Lindsay Middlebrook is an Ontario-born, former National Hockey League goalie who is the coach of an American Collegiate Hockey Association school that will take to the ice for the first time in 2014-2015.

And the 58-year old Middlebrook has been putting together a roster for the Lindenwood University-Belleville Lynx built around players from the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

To date, Middlebrook has commitments from four current NOJHLers to attend school and play hockey at Lindenwood-Belleville — and the old goalie hopes to bring in another six to eight players from the northern league.

“We have a lot to offer players,” the affable Middlebrook told me in a recent telephone interview. “We are anxious to build a good hockey program and the university has put together an attractive recruitment package.”

Middelbrook said that in order to get good players to Lindenwood-Belleville — a school of about 1,200 full-time students which is located in Illinois but not far from St. Louis — the university is offering a scholastic package to student-athletes that covers full tuition over a four-year period.

“Our players will be responsible for their own books and a few incidentals but at the end of the day they will be getting an education at a private, liberal arts school for about $10,000 a year,” Middlebrook revealed.

Middlebrook, who played at the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association level before turning pro, has been coaching at the major midget and high school levels in the St. Louis area for more than 20 years.

“What we are offering is an opportunity to play hockey and get an education at a good school at the same time,” Middlebrook said evenly.

The four NOJHLers who Middlebook has commitments from for the 2014-2015 season are all 1993 birth-year forwards — Brad Edwards and Brandon Janke of the Espanola Rivermen, Duane Wainman of the North Bay Trappers and Landon Hiebert of the Abitibi Eskimos.

KL Gold Miners are good citizens


For the first time in the 26-year history of the CJKL Citizen of the Year Award, a local sports team is being recognized for their community involvement.

The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners Junior A Hockey Club has been named the 2013 CJKL Citizens of the Year. The announcement was made before the start of Friday night’s Gold Miners game at the complex.

Although the majority of the players are from outside of the area, the leadership for the hockey club has made a commitment to ensure their players are actively involved in the community.

“The Gold Miners are setting a terrific example for young people in our area,” said Kirkland Lake Mayor Bill Enouy. “Their efforts have assisted several local organizations.”

“They’re more than just a very good hockey team,” added Enouy. “They’ve become an integral part of our community.”

The CJKL Citizen of the Year award recognizes outstanding contribution to the community through volunteer efforts by local individuals, groups and organizations.

The players were involved in fundraisers for The Kirkland Lake Food Bank, the Kirkland and District Hospital, local toy drives and the Save The Lasalle campaign. They volunteered to help local children learning to skate and play hockey.

At Christmas, the players visited Teck Pioneer Residence, spent time with local seniors and sang carols with the residents. They also took part in The Day with Santa at Hockey Heritage North.

“We are extremely proud of the commitment our players have made to Kirkland Lake and honoured for this recognition” said Dave Bolger, Director of Hockey operations for the Gold Miners Hockey Club.

The 2013 CJKL Citizen of the Year Award will be presented at the Kirkland Lake and District Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner on Thursday, March 20.

The CJKL Lifetime Achievement Award will also be presented that evening. This year’s Lifetime recipient and ticket information for the dinner will be announced in the coming weeks.