I live in a border town that features three casinos, yet I am not a gambler.
To be sure, I’m much too frugal to even think of gambling my hard-earned cash away.
And I even if I was a gambling man, I wouldn’t be all that willing to wager a bet as to who I think will emerge as the eventual champions in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League this season.
The way I see it, a strong case can be made for any five of the NOJHL’s seven teams to win out as league champions come late March.
Right now, the Soo Thunderbirds are in first place in the seven-team NOJHL though I don’t see them as being that much better than the third-seeded Sudbury Cubs.
And let’s not forget about the second-place Soo Eagles, not to mention the fourth-and-fifth ranked Abitibi Eskimos and North Bay Trappers.
All five teams have a lot going for them. All five teams have areas in which they are the best in the league or, at least, second best.
Ergo, I wouldn’t dare to try to pick a clear-cut favourite to win the NOJHL title this season.
OK, OK, if you really push me I might say that the Thunderbirds have the best shot at winning it all.
While Sudbury has firepower that is downright scary, the Thunderbirds are no slouches when it comes to lighting the lamp. And plain and simple, I believe the Thunderbirds have the best goalie in the NOJHL in John Kleinhans.
What about the reigning champion Eagles you ask?
In my mind, the Eagles have one of the NOJHL’s two best coaches in Bruno Bragagnolo. (Paul Gagne of the Abitibi Eskimos is the other.)
But the Eagles don’t have a clear-cut no. 1 goalie and besides, their top scorer, Brock Raffaele, recently took a hike to the North American Hockey League in a move that smacks of parental pressure.
Abitibi? I love any team that features Marc-Alain Begin and has the handprints of Coach Gagne on it.
North Bay? Chris Dawson has steadily improved the Trappers since Day 1 of the season and may be the most under-rated general manager in the NOJHL.
So for now, I’ll play the first-place card and — at the expense of being called a homer — say that if I was cornered and offered a nice cold beer in exchange for my pick as to who will win the this season’s NOJHL title I would reply with a single word and offer no further explanation: Thunderbirds.