WHICH IS THE NOJHL’S BEST TEAM?

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.

62 thoughts on “WHICH IS THE NOJHL’S BEST TEAM?

  1. bayinfo

    Press Release;

    The North Bay Jr. Trappers upgraded their goaltending by acquiring 18-year-old Stephen Klein from the Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League on the final day of the CJHL Cross-Canada Trade Deadline which ended at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday night.

    At 6’2″, the former Team Canada West All-Star invitee brings some size and more stability in goal as he will team up with North Bay’s own Mitchell Knight.

    Jr. Trappers President/GM Chris Dawson was excited to find out Klein was keen on becoming a Trapper.

    “We identified Klein as one of the top young goaltenders in Western Canada and were happy to learn Stephen wanted to come here for an opportunity to develop in the hopes of acquiring an NCAA Division I Hockey Scholarship,” said Dawson.

    “We are thrilled Steve wanted to make the voyage to North Bay as there was a lot of interest in his services and he wasn’t even initially considering anywhere outside the prairies.”

    Klein describes himself as a team player who will make the team better by not only playing well but helping his teammates to become better as well.

    “I am very pleased to become a part of the North Bay Trappers organization and am looking forward to the rest of the season,” said Klein.

    The Jr. Trappers also finalized a deal with the Summerside Western Capitals as the Trappers shipped Jon Aubertin to the coast for future considerations.

    “It was a tough decision, but with the new changes coming within the NOJHL, we thought it was a perfect opportunity to honor Jon’s request for a trade and give him the opportunity to play for the National Championship Host Team next season. We wish Jon the very best,” said Dawson.

    To make room for Klein, the Trappers moved Gianluca Palmieri to the Chatham Maroons of the GOJHL for future considerations.

    Club President/GM Chris Dawson is not finished yet and has one roster position that remains open for a free agent that may become available over the next few weeks.

    The Trappers have up to February 10th to fill their final roster position.

    Klein is expected to join the Trappers at practice Wednesday afternoon at 4 pm at Memorial Gardens.

  2. Kl,er

    Does anyone know what is going on with the Blue Devils. Bob Kasner resigned today is there still a team or did it fold?

  3. mileofgold

    Kasner is out but not to worrey as Doc Sinclair & Friends are standing by to take over the Blue Devils…that is the word on Government Road in Kirkland today!

  4. eaglesfanmarquette

    yes Brock Raff has left the Eagles for K-Zoo which is too bad as the NAHL is not a better League than the NOJE. Kind of sucks with the timing but Players have faith in Coach Bruno that I can tell you!

  5. American Eagle

    Thunderbirds to win it all????? Come on RR you need to stop smokin’ the bad weed LOL. Eagles all the way!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Peachy

    PEACHY BLOG

    Cubs will be Champeon . Birds shit big Turds in March ahahahahahahahahahaha
    ahahahahahahahahahaha

  7. KL

    Heard the same thing today about Doc taken over the Blue Devils. & RR said so on Hockey Show too last night…RR you got any detales?

  8. Dcky 33

    add the Blue Devils to another in the long list of failed businesses under the Bob Kasner umbrella..luckily the franchise will stay in KL, it will need some overhauling but im tld that there are good people ready to step in and local support in the community if Kasner was to leave. Lets hope the already mounting expense bills get paid, the Blue Devils finish the season strong and a strong front office group can be put together.
    This league fits well in Kirkland Lake and with the right people working it will do well in that community. Im originally from there, in North Bay now, but i truly would like to see that franchise to succeed.

  9. Kl,er

    Tom (aka Doc) has enough money to take on this kind for debt load for the KL Blue Devils? Is he going to coach the team or are they going to keep Dave?

  10. stick

    KL had one of there best crowds last game so I am sure if Kasner is gone it should only get better.

  11. stick

    Eskimos sign Jake Ryan that was playing with Stratford. Point a game player that should help the second line. Go Eskis Go

  12. golden bear

    From what I hear…Brock Raffele parents made Brock leave the Soo Eagles, they felt that the NAHL league gets more exposurs than the NOJHL, he is reunited with former SOO eagle and linemate Robbie Payne, who happens to be Kalmazoo leading scorer…Nobody can say that coach Bruno does not trade his players if they ask.

  13. foober40

    Regarding the Blue Devils , if Bob Kasner is truly out of things, Dave Gilespie will Be the coach. Tom Sinclair goes to the United States for a month every year at this time . I know Tom thinks Dave is doing a good job with the team . From what I know Tom is not buying the team nor is he paying any bills but he is involved with a local group who have shown interest in taking over should things not work out .

  14. sigs2012

    Cullitons lose one, add one at junior trading deadline
    By STEVE RICE SPORTS EDITOR

    JUNIOR HOCKEY: Jake Ryan returns to northern Ontario

    The Stratford Cullitons lost one forward and replaced him with another Tuesday before midnight struck and with it the Hockey Canada deadline to freeze junior rosters at 23 players.

    Veteran winger Jake Ryan, who suddenly requested a trade, was sent closer to his New Liskeard home with the Abitibi Eskimos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

    Cullitons’ director of hockey operations and general manager Jason Lott then used the cash from that deal to acquire 20-yearold centre Pat Clifford from the Port Colborne Pirates of the GOJHL’s Golden Horseshoe Conference.

    Clifford won’t be suiting up with the Cullitons for a while. He has four games left to serve on a nine-game suspension for derogatory comments directed at heckling fans in a Dec. 18 home game.

    Lott said Ryan met with him Sunday night and expressed his desire to be moved.

    “He hadn’t been happy here all year and it just wasn’t working out for him, for whatever reason,” Lott said. “We looked at some options and getting him back closer to home was something he was interested in.”

    The Abitibi team is located in Iroquois Falls, a couple of hours north of New Liskeard.

    Ryan had scored just two goals in his last 13 games and with 11 goals and 37 points in 34 games had fallen off the pace of his rookie season, when he finished with 24 goals and 57 points.

    Lott said he was not looking to move Ryan and was disappointed with the request to leave.

    “I think Jake and we as a team have struggled to find someone like Mitch McCrank who Jake meshed so well with last year,” Lott said. “I think that was just a frustration point for him and maybe ended up affecting his performance on the ice.”

    Clifford, in his third year with the Pirates, has five goals and 40 assists in 28 games to lead the team in points. He has 82 penalty minutes, 60 of them on six misconducts.

    Lott was approached at Monday night’s all-star game by Port Colborne coach and general manager Bryan Kelly about a deal. Lott met with the 20-yearold Tuesday in St. Catharines, where he attends Brock University, and the suspension was part of the discussion.

    “I’m very comfortable that it was a one-time occurrence, a heat-of-the-moment thing,” Lott said. “I think that with our leadership group and our coaching, and the fact that we’re a first-place team will help keep him more focused. I don’t think something like that will happen again.”

    There’s little doubt that the incident prompted the trade. Kelly was quoted in the Welland Tribune as saying, “He embarrassed himself, he embarrassed his teammates and he embarrassed the Port Colborne Pirates organization. As far as I am concerned, his tenure with Port Colborne is over.”

    Lott said Clifford will add skill to the lineup, comparing him to Andrew Barton, who was scheduled to have knee surgery today.

    “He’s a skill guy that I t

  15. Eskisfan

    Foober,
    I was actually hoping to hear you’d be involved with the KL Blue Devils some how.
    Yeah i’m not sure Dr. Tom Sinclair is prepared to open up his coffers to run a Jr A team. Smart man and wise enough to know the it’s not an investment that will provide much in the way of returns, certainly a high level of risk there. Health permitting, he’d certainly be a good guy to help steer the club.
    Some very deep pockets in KL and there is business/sponsorship money available if you have a salesman with the right connections/associations.

    Good to hear things will stay afloat at least for the remainder of the season.

    Surprised to see no one really went out and loaded up at/into the deadline. Eagles take a step back in losing Raffaele. Trappers lost a big piece in Aubertin but it looks like they maybe nulified that or gained with Klien. Blue Devils and Beavers each dropped a couple players. T Birds add 2 depth players. Sudbury does nothing. Eskis add a bonafide 1st liner and hopefully some depth on D.

    In the end, it should be a showdown between the T-Birds and Cubs but you just never know with Sudbury. They very well could end up being a Paper Tiger.

  16. Nyfdff

    Looks like tomorrows game between KL and NB has been postponed while KL straightens out the ownership issues. Friday and Sat home games are still on for now.

  17. soo indians fan

    I would be very surprised if Brock’s father, John, put pressure on him to leave the Soo for Kalamazoo. Brock and Travis Payne both made the Kzoo team out of camp but chose to return to the Soo and in Brock’s case it was so he could live with family living in the Soo. I’m not saying it wasn’t but I’ve known the family for over 10 years and would be surprised.

  18. golden bear

    Soo Indians Fan: Do you think that the Eagles would let their leading scorer go as they are battling for 1st place? I dont think so. Brock’s agent father John wanted him to go to the Nahl. If you know the family so good call John and ask him.

  19. Cubs Fan

    from the daily press timmins, wow this sucks

    NOJHL’ Blue Devils franchise folds
    HOCKEY: Team officials announce Kirkland Lake won’t finish 2011-12 season
    By THOMAS PERRY The Daily Press
    Posted 3 hours ago

    The Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League is down to six teams.

    Management of the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils announced Thursday morning that the franchise is folding.

    “It is with great regret and a heavy heart that I announce that the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils Junior ‘A’ hockey club has informed the NOJHL that it will not continue operations for the remainder of the season,” team owner and general manager Bob Kasner said in a news release.

    Efforts to reach NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca to determine the status of the players on the Blue Devils roster and the impact of the loss of the Kirkland Lake franchise on the schedule for the remainder of the regular season have, so far, been unsuccessful.

    Tuesday was the cut-down date for clubs to fix their rosters and it would seem unlikely that the league’s other six franchises would be able to add players from the Blue Devils roster for the remainder of the season.

    The Blue Devils were in their first season in Kirkland Lake after the Manitoulin Islanders franchise was transferred this past summer.

    On the ice, the team posted a record of 7-28 and sat in last place in the NOJHL’s Eastern Division, 21 points behind the third-place North Bay Trappers who had three games in hand.

    At the time the Blue Devils franchise was awarded to Kirkland Lake, officials with the Kirkland Lake Legion 87′s expressed concern it would draw fan support and sponsors away from the Great North Midget League club.

    There have been rumours about a consortium stepping forward to take over operation of the Blue Devils, however nothing has been confirmed.

  20. Fanofthegame

    What a shame that this is announced 2 days after the trade deadline! Feel for the players thats for sure….their only opportunity is to now be picked up as a free agent where there is space!

  21. sigs2012

    FYI, an attempt will be made to stream the Cubs vs Abitibi, from the MAC.
    Go to http://www.eskis.com , scroll all the way to the bottom where you’ll see “TV bingo” and click on that. Should be live by 7:30 puck drop.

  22. eskisfan

    Great news there, new group saves the day for both KL and the NOJHL. Good job on getting the “scoop” RR

  23. Cubs Fan

    very happy for players fans and the town of KL ! I’m looking forward to the Blue Devils and Cubs first round playoff series this year ! as long as the Trappers or Eskimos don’t ruin that prediction that is. lol

  24. ABITIBIAN

    Also happy to see the dust has settled in K-L ,it seems the air has also cleared . Not sure who is the new group but i have a feeling it will generate more local interest.
    Not sure if Doc still had interest with the 87`s but maybe now both groups will come to mutual understanding.
    This is good news for K-L , also good for the Eskimos & good for the league.

    Glad to see some Liskeard products come our way,had the opportunity to see Jake evolved in the GNML….good acquisition, hoping Green will bring some stabilty on the D.

  25. upfront

    Glad to see that K L still in the league it would have be a shame to loose another team in the NOJHL. Now I guess the team can focus on the rest of the season and hopefully without any more big distractions . KL was starting to play some good hockey hope it continues now good luck down the stretch

  26. eaglesrock

    Eagles have lost 2 in a row, a slump for them for sure. 2 games this weekend – in Blind River and at the T-Birds. The Eagles will miss Raffaele but with Depp, Payne, Toten, McLauglin there is plenty of firepower left! GO EAGLES GO!

  27. Trapperfan

    After speaking with one of the players for K-L it appears that it will all good from here on in and all the players are excited. I think the new team name is neat and more of a reflection of the town of K.L.
    Like mr Mazzucca stated Mr. Kasner managed to bring a Jr. team to K.L and for that he should be commended. There is no doubt now that the community or at least a few of the major players in the community believe that Jr hockey is has a place there.
    Looking forward to seeing the new look and the continued determination by coach Dave G. to ice the competetive team that this community deserves.

  28. Alan

    Drayton Valley and lots of other Alberta and Saskatchewan towns have great players that regularly get overlooked.

  29. eskisfan

    “I think the new team name is neat and more of a reflection of the town of K.L.” what’s the new name?

  30. Osbie

    It is my understanding that K-zoo paid a nice chunk of change for Raffaele. I guess I don’t understand why if he made that team out of camp, he would all of a sudden feel it’s time to go play there. My guess is that they have been after him all season.

  31. stick

    From the article in the Timmins paper it looks like the Eskimos forgot to follow coach Gagne’s system on Thursday night. Six goals should have been more than enough to win. Now that the Eski’s are back to a full line up hopefully they will get back to the winning system they were playing at the start of the year. I also heard from a friend that was at the game Sudbury took after our little players with no come back from the bigger players on the Eski’s. Hopefully this problem will also get resolved.

  32. foober40

    Well for those of you who have followed the Blue Devils saga this week I’m sure you’ve read or heard a great deal . This is the status of things in KL as I understand them as of today . Bob Kasner has folded the team he owns and the league is in the process of evaluating a potential offer from a town group to purchase the former Temiskamang Royals franchise and move it to KL . At this time no formal offer has been approved but an offer and acceptance is expected early next week . The new team will have the same players and coaches as the old team . They in fact are scheduled to practice Tuesday or Wednesday and will be playing scheduled games this weekend coming . Tom Sinclair is not buying the team and is in fact leaving for Florida Monday for 4 weeks . He has been and will continue advising the new group . This will mean that Bob will be responsible for any outstanding debts that were incurred by the Blue Devil organization and the new group will be starting from scratch after paying a franchise fee to the NOJHL . At least again that is my understanding of the situation .

    Again as I understand it , new sweaters , socks and skins are ordered and set for delivery for Friday . The new name and colors will be released to the public by the organization after the approval is granted . I hear the players already have been told everything at a meeting last week . No names of the investors involved has been released yet but there is much speculation in town at this time . Look for news early next week because the majority of the league executive and owners are in Toronto at the OHF summit this weekend >

  33. upfront

    Birds are lucky to win that one out played out shot for 2 periods to many D standing around watching the Eagles skate

  34. tbirdfan

    I give the birds credit for not rubbing it in more 15-4 last 2 games. Now they need to have the sane success over Sudbury.

  35. upfront

    Please do say more were you at the game ? 6 in the first and how many the rest of the game 1
    Like I said out shot and out worked good thing for J K and the first period or they would have lost

  36. stick

    Nice road win by the Eskis tonight, Fecteau was a wall once again. New comer Jake Ryan had a great game with a goal and two helpers. Looking forward to the Eagles at the Igloo next Sat.

  37. Goaliekid

    First off Raffaele made the decision by himself with no pressure from his parents. Honestly you have to take a look at the big picture. Even though the people that cover the league and follow the NOJHL think that it gets just as much coverage as the NA but in all honesty the NOJHL doesn’t get half of the exposure that the NA does. If you go to an NA game there are way more scouts and coaches watching one game than come to a whole month’s game in the NOJHL. Also Kzoo has been all over him all year to come down there. He must have thought that it was best to finally make the move to better his own hockey career. I can guarantee you that there was no added pressure from his parents. If he wanted to actually stay in the Soo, they would have been perfectly fine with that. To bad mouth the kid and his parents for making a decision that is best for his hockey career is immature and very childish. Yes the Eagles are going to miss him but they have enough fire power to continue their success. I wish him nothing but the best in Kzoo. He’s already doing fine getting 5pts in his first two games there and the Eagles will do just fine without him.

  38. Eskisfan

    Kurly, Rheault and Lacasse were out with the Flu.

    Miners eh? hmmm, I like the Dlue Devils better, but bring back the Jerseys from the late 70′s-early 80′s.

  39. American Eagle

    goaliekid: what you claim to know re: Raffele is nothing to what I have heard from folks who I have talked to around town.

  40. Goaliekid

    American Eagle… don’t know what you meant about that last comment. I know for sure though that the decision to move to Kzoo was his and his alone

  41. sigs2012

    Eskisfan,
    about bringing back 70′s/80′s jerseys for the “blue devils” or “miners” or whatever, ……. maybe stay away from black and yellow/gold; why the BD’s had that color set in their reportoir, when there’s already a team with black & gold theme, and their name suggests BLUE, is a head-scratcher.
    IMO, “Miners” (not “minors”, lol) is a fine name; I’m sure they will be drilled a lot @ practice, hahaha. I guess I’m opening the door to underground jokes…

  42. bayinfo

    Hi Sigs, Everytime time I seen the Blue Devils, they were wearing dark blue unis, other than the yellow one’s of course. They are a very dark blue , so I can see how one may think they look black vs light colours around them, but they are in fact dark blue. Now the Eagles darks and the Eskies Darks are very very very similiar.

  43. eskisfan

    In the subject of same colours, the year the Eskis hosted the Dudley and the Aurora Tigers, Abitibi Eskimos, Schreiber Diesels and Soo Eagles (to a lesser extent) showed up with all black and gold was interesting. The Eagles had a bit of red too but they had some gold on those jerseys as well.

    Hopefully KL goes back to the NY Rangers colour scheme like they always have. Heard there are some BIG sponsorship dollars coming up from one of the Mines so if that is the case, there is good chance they will adopt that mines business colours, Black and Gold.

  44. eaglesrock

    Good reading Randy! Brock is a good player & good kid and the Eagles wll miss him and we have guys who can score as you stated. You are also right about Goalies need to step up!

  45. North Shore

    Listen to the “Hockey North Show” with RR last night quite canddid comments from the Commish and that he is working on a new “Non North American Import Rule” for next year. Great News! Perhaps this will lead Elliot Lake to the NOJHL which is where this team belongs IN THE OPINION OF MANY! Ryan Lenard are you listening?

  46. American Eagle

    I say give Truhel 4-5 Starts in a row to see if he can be the # 1 Goaler for the Eagles.

    Thunderbirds are a pretty Cocky crew just like last year they acted all Cocky when they won 1st Place but we all know who won the Playoffs now dont we!!!! Anyways this is a great rivelry Eagles – Thunderbirds – may the best team win as this is all good for the NOJ-HL.

  47. BirdsFan1

    AE:
    All I will say is that those “cocky” Thunderbirds have kicked the Eagles asses the last 2 times 8-0 and 7-4.
    As Peachy would say: Eagles have gone for a shit!

  48. Beavers1

    Elliott Lake-Blind River imagine that rivalry!!! Just as in the old days packed house’s to watch the Vikings play the Beavers home and home Blind River on Saturday nite and over to Elliott on Sunday aftanoon!

  49. Long Train Running

    I know for a fact that there is a Group of former OHL-NHL Players from the North that would like a NOJHL Franchise for Elliot-Lake and can pull this off if the Bobcats do not want to switch Leagues. Step up to the plate if you are serius!!!

    The Eagles may be in a slump however…do NOT underestamate Bruno! He knows how to Win!!!.

    RR: your Hockey North Show is the best! ESPN Rocks!

  50. Dcky33

    Kirkland Lake’s junior hockey club is back on home ice Friday for a game against the Soo Eagles.

    From this point on the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League team will be known as the Gold Miners.

    The club’s ownership group also announced members of the new executive that will be charged with the task of moving the team forward.

    The executive board will be made up of Club President, John Hammell, as well as three vice-presidents; Dave Bolger will serve as vice-president of hockey operations, Jim Taylor will be the team’s vice president of business operations and Gord Sinclair will be in charge of marketing.

    The secretary-treasurer is Rob Murdoch and the team manager is Jim MacKinnon.

    Being from KL originally and knowing all of the gentlemen involved , this operation is in good hands , These are well respected business people in Kirkland Lake and a lot of these men played hockey in KL and elsewhere after leaving Kirkland Lake only to return home to run their businesses there .

    Good luck to the Gold Miners for the balance of this season and for many more to come

  51. Brother99

    RR;
    Haven’t had an urge to comment in awhile. Anyways I do agree JK is the best goalie in the NOJHL. IMHO I believe the difference is the goaltending in the NOJHL. As for the Eagles they will miss Jake P in the playoffs for sure or for that matter JK even more…I would really like peachy’s opinion on the status of goaltending in the NOJHL this year yours RR even more. I think you should do a full write-up on the teams goalie’s going into the play-offs. Both by play and stats one goalie stands alone at this time in the NOJHL. I hear UM will need a replacement for a little goalie next year hehe. Maybe someone should tell Red to come take a look.

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