Soo Thunderbirds general manager Kevin Cain has been known to call it as he sees it when it comes to the overall landscape in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
One-quarter of the way through the 2012-13 NOJHL campaign, the Thunderbirds are in a frantic race for first place with the North Bay Trappers and Sudbury Nickel Barons in what is a highly-competive, seven-team NOJHL.
The Thunderbirds are a good team, again. So is North Bay. So is Sudbury.
Meantime, the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners are over the .500 mark as a second-year entry and the Blind River Beavers, Abitibi Eskimos and the expansion Elliot Lake Bobcats are all showing clear signs of improvement and resurgence.
Cain, who is in his third season as Thunderbirds GM and has a previous history with Blind River and the erstwhile champion Soo Indians, said the 2012-13 season is shaping up as more than just a three-team race for first place.
“We are a very-competitive league,” Cain praised. “There are no nights off in this league. We have managers and coaches who really want to win. We have fans who expect their teams to win.”
Cain pointed to his Thunderbirds losing to Blind River on home ice on Friday night just passed and the fact that Elliot Lake is showing “definite signs of improvement.”
Indeed, while Elliot Lake is a first-year entry, the Bobcats have high expectations, even though they are currently last in the seven-team NOJHL.
“We want to finish in the top four, that’s a goal of ours,” said Chad Vresk, who is the Bobcats vice president of hockey operations. “Our fans expect a winning product and so does Lenny (Bobcats president-general manager-coach Ryan Leonard.) The NOJHL is a very-good league and we have to keep working just to keep pace with the other teams.”
Going into play this week, the Thunderbirds are first with 21 points from a record of 9-1-1-2. North Bay is next with 20 points from an 8-1-2-2 mark followed by Sudbury and its 16 points from an 8-3-0-0 record.
Kirkland Lake is a solid fourth with 13 points from a 6-5-0-1 record and then there are just two points separating Blind River, Abitibi and Elliot Lake.
The Beavers have 8 points from a 3-7-1-1 record, the Eskimos have 7 points from a 3-7-0-1 mark and the Bobcats have 6 points from a 3-9-0-0 showing.