Its upcoming annual general meeting should tell the tale of how many teams will comprise the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League in 2014-2015.
With the departure of the attendance-leading Espanola Rivermen to the new Canadian International Hockey League, the NOJHL is currently made up of seven teams from east to west: Cochrane Crunch (formerly Elliot Lake Bobcats), Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Abitibi Eskimos, Mattawa Blackhawks (formerly North Bay Trappers), Sudbury Nickel Barons, Blind River Beavers and Soo Thunderbirds.
But NOJHL commissioner Rob Mazzuca is working with factions in the Elliot Lake area to try to put a new team into that town — and the league is also said to be looking at other potential markets.
To be sure, the NOJHL appears to have a firm footprint on the east side.
Cochrane has the excitement of junior hockey coming to town, Kirkland Lake won the 2013-2014 playoff championship over the Soo in front of home crowds that topped the 1,000 mark and Abitibi is in the midst of a season-ticket drive aimed at keeping the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls for the 2014-2015 season and beyond.
Mattawa, we are not so sure about.
Blackhawks owner David Beauchamp is due in court on June 2 to answer a challenge as to who holds the junior hockey rights in Mattawa.
Undaunted, Beauchamp has started a marketing campaign for the 2014-2015 season and from his end, remains confident of operating an NOJHL team in Mattawa.
Heading west, Sudbury, Blind River and the Soo will state their intentions for the 2014-2015 season at next month’s AGM.
What shape will the NOJHL be in for 2014-2015?
If Mazzuca is successful in putting a new team into Elliot Lake, if Mattawa is a go as its owner says it is and the other teams maintain status quo, the NOJHL will at least continue as an eight-team operation.
As for Mazzuca’s status as commissioner, he has solid support from the east side of the league, enough it would appear, to keep him in power.