We’re a month into the 2012-13 Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League regular season and the current standings hold no real surprise.
It had been said here before the start of the season that North Bay, the Soo and Sudbury would battle for first, Kirkland Lake would be in the middle and Abitibi, Blind River and Elliot Lake would make up the lower third of the seven-team loop.
The Nickel Barons of Sudbury might be the only surprise, and a mild one at that.
While Sudbury was seen as a top three team, the Nickel Barons record of 8-1 through nine games is better than most NOJHL insiders would have thought, methinks. Then again, I’ve always been a fan of Nickel Barons coach Dave Clancy.
I’m thinking that the expansion Bobcats of Elliot Lake will begin to show upward movement sooner than later.
Elliot Lake has just one win as this is being written but coach-general manager Ryan Leonard and his staff have made several recent moves to improve on the team’s weaknesses.
The Soo has handed Sudbury its only loss to date and so far the Thunderbirds have adapted well to a new-look coaching staff featuring long-time assistant Warren Lavoy as headmaster and the seasoned, cerebral Dennis Bolton as his top associate.
The time-honoured Bolton is fresh from a four-year gig as an assistant coach with the Soo Eagles, who are now in their first season in the North American Hockey League.
Bolton is one of those old-style coaches who has brought himself up-to-date with today’s game.
Who to watch out for among the “big three” as the season advances?
I like Sudbury and I like the Soo and while I am not one who bets money, I would roll the dice and take the Trappers of North Bay to finish first.
NOJHL TO D1
Robbie Payne has secured a future commitment to play Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association hockey at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.
Payne, a 1993 birth year forward from Gaylord, Mich., is currently in his second season with the Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings of the North American Hockey League.
Kalamazoo head coach Marc Fakler confirmed Payne’s recent commitment to NMU.
After scoring 40 goals in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League with the Soo Eagles for coach Bruno Bragagnolo during their 2010-11 championship season, Payne moved to the NAHL with Kalamazoo for the 2011-12 campaign and produced 55 points, 26 of which were goals.
The Eagles are now part of the NAHL and compete with Kalamazoo in the North Division.
Payne, meanwhile, becomes the second former NOJHLer that NMU has recruited in the last two years.
Previously, NMU signed former Soo Eagles and Soo Thunderbirds goalie Michael Doan. Doan, a Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. native, is now a freshman at NMU.
Of note, Walt Kyle, a former National Hockey League coach, is the main main behind the bench at NMU.
Among Kyle’s assistants is Joe Shawhan, a Sault Ste. Marie native and former head coach of the erstwhile Soo Indians of the NAHL. Shawhan was also an assistant coach with the Division 1, Lake Superior State Lakers before heading to NMU.