NOJHL is in good hands with Mazzuca

The revolving door of the commissioner’s office has stopped spinning.

Robert Mazzuca has just completed his first season as commissioner of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and with his contract having been extended for two more years, the position finally has some sense, structure and stability to it.

Not since the legendary Joe Drago was commissioner has the NOJHL been in the command of someone as firm, focused and progressive as Mazzuca, a Sudbury native who just turned 50-years old on May 13.

Since Drago — a retired high school principal and erstwhile owner-general manager of the Ontario Hockey League Sudbury Wolves — left the NOJHL for subsequent executive positions with, first, the Ontario Hockey Federation and now Hockey Canada, the commissioner’s office had lacked stability.

Since 2005, Art Yeo, Wayne Stickland, Mark Seidel and Hector Seguin all wore the NOJHL’s commissioner’s hat before Mazzuca was brought aboard last summer.

Mazzuca, to be sure, has had a major impact on the NOJHL in less than a year on the job.

Under his watch, the NOJHL has introduced a concussion safety program, anti-doping legislation and expanded its scholarship fund for the players.

Mazzuca has also ruled with an iron hand, adding supplemental discipline to players tagged with automatic suspensions for dangerous infractions such as checking from behind. He also acted on evidence gathered by an independent, third-party investigator to dish out indefinite suspensions to two Soo Thunderbird coaches on the eve of the recently completed, Royal Bank Cup national junior tournament.

Mazzuca’s savvy was evident in early January of this year when he worked feverishly to help save the NOJHL in Kirkland Lake after original ownership folded the franchise with little notice.

Having sensed trouble with the original owner in Kirkland Lake, Mazzuca was front and centre in quickly setting up new owners with very little disruption to the 2011-2012 regular-season schedule.

And just recently, Mazzuca played a major role in welcoming the well-run Elliot Lake Bobcats franchise to the NOJHL from the non-sanctioned, Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League.

Where does Mazzuca find the time to oversee the day-to-day operations of the NOJHL while working full-time as an investment adviser in Sudbury, where he also owns a number of properties?

“I guess you can say I am well-organized and that I manage my time well,” said Mazzuca, who works out of an office that he affectionately calls the “bunker” in the Sudbury home that he shares with his wife and their four children.

He’s also well-connected in the hockey world. He has a special relationship with Drago — who owned and managed the OHL Wolves when Mazzuca was the team’s star defenceman after being a first-round pick in 1979 — and has upper-level contacts in both Canada and the United States.

Mazzuca, who closed out his junior hockey career in 1983 after being a late-season, over-age acquisition of the Soo Greyhounds, went on to play at St. Francis Xavier University, where he graduated before moving back to Sudbury, his hometown.

Confident and personable, Mazzuca is also accessible and hands-on in his role as NOJHL commissioner.

“I like to know what’s going on with all the teams in the league,” he told me. “The more I know and am aware of, the better prepared I can be and the fewer surprises there will be.”

Mazzuca knows it’s not easy trying to please all members of the seven-team NOJHL and realizes that the tough decisions are not going to be popular ones.

But he has the respect of the majority of the NOJHL governors, including highly regarded Abitibi Eskimos president Scott Marshall, who is the dean of the league’s power brokers.

“He’s a very smart guy,” Marshall told me the last time we talked, a few weeks back. “Rob has been very, very good for our league. He’s given us a vision and a plan. He works hard at the job and takes it very seriously.”

Overall, the NOJHL, it would surely seem, is in pretty good shape as it stands.

Like any Jr. A hockey league — be it in Canada or the United States — there will always be problem areas, concerns and franchises teetering on existence.

Grassroots is where the NOJHL is at and the majority of the seven franchises are stable, from Abitibi, North Bay and Kirkland Lake in the east to the Soo and the new kids in Elliot Lake on the west side.

Sudbury and Blind River could change ownership before the start of next season and you can bet the commissioner’s office will be keeping tabs on what happens there.

In other words, there’s no rest for Mazzuca from this so-called part-time job of his.

23 thoughts on “NOJHL is in good hands with Mazzuca

  1. Cassio

    Mazucca has clearly done real good job of managing the League. Examples include avoiding what could of been a real disaster in KL and also as RR pointed out getting Eliott Lake on board. He has been as RR said the best Commish since Draggo. I just wish we would of got into Huntsville or Parry Sound.

  2. Frood

    Nice that Robbie Mazzuca has risen above being your average Sudbury “hockey bum” to be University educated and well known and respected in the Greater Sudbury community by his clients and friends. I hope he finds stable ownership for the Cubs perhap’s Mikey Foligno and his 2 sons can help out a bit.

  3. BirdsFan1

    Good article by Randy in the “Sault This Week” about the Soo T-Birds and their ups and downs of this season. Honest and no B.S. tell it like is RR. Toots gets his credit and so does Cain and the kids and it looks like changes are coming which is probably a good thing when you consider all that has happen.

    I hear that a few of the kids like Connelly and Jackson may be trying out for teams in the NAHL i.e. Flint or Port Huron.

  4. Ryan Leonard, Elliot Lake Bobcats

    The Elliot Lake Bobcats are pleased with the response we have had to date towards playing for the Bobcats. We still have 6 spots open for training camp for any players wishing to make the jump to the NOJHL and the Elliot Lake Bobcats next season. We have 66 players registered for our camp next Friday May 25th in Sudbury,Ontario and will not allow more then 72 players. Goalie spots are full for our camp. If any players are interested in trying out please visit our site at http://www.elliotlakebobcats.net and register. We will pick the majority or our team that weekend.

    We have some great solid commitments from many players from the GNML and have committed to a few quality players from Southern Ontario. All our import spots are still wide open and still have 18 spots available for next season to fill our 25 man roster.

    We are pleased to announce that the Bobcats assistant coach from last year Todd Stencel has come to agreement and is back for his 2nd full year with the Cats.

    The Bobcats also held their season ticket drive at the Elliot Lake Trade Show last week and have sold 96 tickets to date. The goal for this year is 150.

    September can’t come quick enough!

  5. American Eagle

    I would like to see annual pre-season tournament involving the Soo Eagles and other teams from the NAHL (Port Huron, Michigan Warriors, Kalamazoo) and the Soo Thunderbirds, Sudbury and North Bay from the NOJHL.

    As for Commish Mazzuca: I did not agree with his suspension to Derek Dias but I agree with RR that Mazzuca is a strong leader for the NO.

  6. Cue For Treason

    With concerns about Blind River yes I have those same concerns. No Coach, no planned Tryout Camps, no one really knows who is running the Beavers and whether any one on Board has a clue what is going on here.

  7. BirdsFan1

    I hope that Toots returns to coach the Thunderbirds and if not Coach maybe he can be the G.M. As far as Enzo and Carlo doing more I think that would be good. Giommi needs to keep his nose up at National Supply and away from the hockey business. Sponsor the team is very generous of Albert but let the hockey people make the hockey decisions. You think that Scot Marshall up in Abitibi tells Paul Gagnen what to do? I doubt that very much.

  8. Hockey Advisor

    best of Luck to the Soo Eagles in the NAHL. Bruno is a class act who runs a class organization all the way.

  9. Frood

    Word is that Brian Verreault is putting together a group to try and buy the Sudbury Cubs.

  10. Bird Nest

    RR: Is it true that you are a Scout for a team in the North American Hockey League? That is what one of the Thunderbird Staff Members told me.

  11. Golden Bear

    I heard from a friend of mine from Blind River that there may not be a beavers team this year, financial problems. Also Sudbury is also in some financial trouble,Could there only be 5 teams, Lets hope not?

  12. Mike

    I hear that he Cubs have a bunch of unpaid bills. Will the new owners assume those debts?

    I doubt that Verreault has the money to buy the Cubs. I hear that the Cubs lose big money every year. Their team was badly coached, badly managed and undisciplined this year in my opinion – but they were certainly entertaining and they won lots. Still, they couldn’t draw good crowds.

  13. Toots Kovacs

    Thank-you to everyone, including the fans and teams of the NOJHL for your support, encouragement and best wishes to the Soo Thunderbird players at the Royal Bank Cup. It was very much appreciated by all.

    I can honestly say the Thunderbird players gave it everything they had. The boys faced some stacked and loaded teams, but always stood tall. Our players have faced adversity time and time again this past year, but instead of letting it get to them and folding the tent they fought tooth and nail thru it all….that is the definition of Character. They represented our city, the NOJHL and the province of Ontario very well, both on and off the ice.

    Attending the Royal Bank Cup is an experience that our players will never forget. It really was the experience of a life time. After seeing first hand the top 5 Junior A teams in Canada, the NOJHL is not far off. During our time in Humboldt, our team and the NOJHL earned the respect of the Junior A hockey community right accross Canada, something that all members of the 2011/2012 Soo Thunderbird Hockey Club should be proud of.

  14. stick

    Sure looks like Ryan Leonard is off to a great start getting his Bobcat club ready for the up coming season. A few of the other clubs should follow his example and not wait till a month before the season to prepare. I am sure Elliot Lake will be a great addition to the NOJHL.

  15. Elliot Lake Vikings Alumnus

    lots of positive talk around the North Shore about Ryan Leonard and his Elliot Lake Bobcats…lets hope that President Stewart Campbell and the Execuitive Board does not drop the ball on the Blind River Beavers!

  16. Cue For Treason

    Campbell should stop chasing his tail and get ready for next season or the Beavers are going to be in worse shape than they were this past season! Stop whining about expenses that are rising – it’s no different in Abitibi or any wheres else! Get Terry Thompson and Rainville Sr. involved with this team and lets move forward!

  17. Port Huron Fighting Falcons Fan

    Randy Russon : I enjoy your articles on juniorhockey.com very much!

  18. Ron Bentley

    Congratulations to the Sault Thunderbirds…they did an awesome job in a tournament that takes no hostages….they were in every game and their goaltender stood on his head….Ultimately they met the soon to be crowned champions and tournament favourites….you knew they were stinging for the rematch….All in all from what I saw all season long through the Dudley to the Royal Bank Cup…this team brought the NOJHL some much needed credibility in the Hockey World

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