State of the league

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.

What’s going on in Elliot Lake?

The matter of whether there may be junior hockey in Elliot Lake in 2014-2015 has been on City Council agenda three times in the past six weeks.

All three times — last night included — City Council deferred the matter to its next scheduled meeting.

Elliot Lake has been home to the Bobcats for seven seasons — five in the Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League and the past two in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

But owner and founder Ryan Leonard — who is also general manager and coach — has moved the franchise to Cochrane where the Crunch will begin play effective the 2014-2015 NOJHL season.

In the meantime, NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca has been trying to orchestrate an expansion franchise for Elliot Lake. Mazzuca was supposed to appear before Elliot Lake City Council for the second time last night but did not.

Then there is the new Canadian International Hockey League, which has applied for sanction within the Amateur Athletic Union as part of the United Hockey Union for the 2014-2015 campaign.

CIHL founder Tim Clayden has sent an e-mail to City of Elliot Lake personnel inviting them to consider the new league as a possible option.

Clayden, who also owns the Espanola Rivermen — who defected from the NOJHL to the new CIHL — is awaiting formal approval from the AAU-UHU to be under its umbrella.

So what is next for Elliot Lake?

That depends on City Council and whether local investors step up with a plan to have a junior hockey franchise in either the NOJHL or the CIHL for the 2014-2015 campaign.

North Bay has served the NOJHL well

As of now, North Bay no longer has a team within the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.

The NOJHL recently approved relocation of the Trappers from North Bay to nearby Mattawa and the team will be called the Blackhawks.

I suspect that not many in North Bay will miss the Trappers, with the Ontario Hockey League having taken control of the town with the North Bay Battalion.

And that’s fine.

But let’s not forget that North Bay has served the NOJHL well since 2003 with first the Skyhawks, then the Trappers.

North Bay teams have won four NOJHL championships since 2003 and many good men have been associated with the Skyhawks and Trappers as owners, general managers, coaches and marketers including the likes of Guy Blanchard, Tim Clayden, Kevin Kerr, Darren Turcotte, Ian Swalucynski, Tom McCarthy, Chris Dawson, Dean Pauli, Randy Blake and Brent Ogletree.

And the list of players who have suited up for the Skyhawks and Trappers over the years is an impressive one.

Off the top of my head, players who come to mind are skaters Jordan Carroll, Tyler Eady, Dennis French, Dustin Fummerton, Brad Gehl, Brad Hummel, Brandon Janke, Ryan Loach, Dustin McCrank, Brad Norkum, Beau Orser, Matthew Salituro, AJ Shiverdecker, Alex Valenti, Quinn Waller and goalies Greg Dodds, Mike Lalande, Andre Laperriere and Martin Perreault.

But that is just the tip of a lengthy list of alumni from a North Bay franchise that will have a good chapter in the NOJHL book of esteemed historian David Harrison.

KL Gold Miners come up empty

The champions of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League have come up empty up at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada playdowns that are going on in Wellington, Ont.

Kirkland Lake Gold Miners were doubled up 6-3 by the Superior International Jr. Hockey League champion Fort Frances Lakers today and were thus eliminated from further play.

Kirkland Lake went winless at the four-team DHC, losing all three of its round-robin games.

Previously, Kirkland Lake lost 4-1 to the host Wellington Dukes and 4-1 to the Ontario Jr. Hockey League champion Toronto Lakeshore Patriots.

First-rate franchise

Regardless of what the future holds for Soo Thunderbirds, the local Jr. A franchise is one of good repute.

Perennial contenders in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, the 2013-2014 season ended for the Thunderbirds last week when they were upended by the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in the championship series.

The Thunderbirds have been a part of the NOJHL since 1999 and for the most part, they are overshadowed by the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.

While the Greyhounds average 4,500 fans per game, the Thunderbirds would be happy to draw 450 per home outing.

To be sure, the Thunderbirds are not a money-making proposition.

In fact, a good year for the Thunderbirds would be to break even.

Owner Albert Giommi is a generous man and has put a lot of his own money into the Thunderbirds over the years.

But Giommi is also a very-busy man who owns National Supply in Sault Ste. Marie while also doing business elsewhere in Ontario.

Giommi also has two kids in university and one has to wonder how much time and energy he can continue to put into the Thunderbirds.

Can the Thunderbirds continue to survive in an OHL-dominated city and in an NOJHL that is becoming more-expensive to play in?

Hard to say.

Perhaps they could — with a new, less-busy owner who has more time to devote to junior hockey than Giommi does. And let’s not forget that Giommi and his general manager Kevin Cain are also the overseers of the newly-formed Soo Thunderbirds (formerly Soo North Stars) of the Great North Midget Hockey League.

The Thunderbird juniors have a good history in Sault Ste. Marie.

But times are changing and a change of the guard may be what is needed.

Eskimos staying in Iroquois Falls

Abitibi Eskimos are not leaving town.

The Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League team held a rally last night to determine fan interest for the 2014-2015 season and received overwhelming support.

The Eskimos announced a season-ticket drive and at the same time said the team will remain in Iroquois Falls.

Clayden kept NB Trappers afloat

David Beauchamp, who recently received approval from the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League to move his franchise from North Bay to Mattawa for the 2014-2015 season, has confirmed that Espanola Rivermen owner Tim Clayden kept the Trappers afloat for the 2013-2014 campaign.

Below is a copy of an-mail sent by Beauchamp to Clayden in February of this year acknowledging such.

From: David Beauchamp

Subject: North Bay Trappers 2013-2014

Date: February 15, 2014 at 2:10:49 PM EST

To: Tim Clayden

To whom it may concern:

The North Bay Trappers operations in 2013-2014 would not have been possible without Tim Clayden although David Beauchamp has paid Tim Clayden 30k from February 2013 to April 2013. David has since then relied on Tim’s financial resources amounting in over 45k to keep the North Bay Trappers afloat for the 2013-2014 season. From busing, billets, and ice rental fees, Tim Clayden is the only reason the Trappers finished the 2013-2014 season.

Regards

David Beauchamp

Sent from my iPhone

NOJHL says its going to Mattawa

NOJHL PRESS RELEASE

North Bay’s NOJHL franchise to relocate to Mattawa

The Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League has announced that its Board of Governors have approved the relocation of the North Bay Trappers franchise to nearby Mattawa to begin play in the 2014-15 season.

The move was approved at NOJHL meetings held over the weekend.

“We wish owner David Beauchamp and his team the best of luck in Mattawa moving forward,” stated NOJHL Commissioner Robert Mazzuca.

The Trappers played a number of regular season games as well as all their playoff contests in Mattawa to concluse their 2013-14 campaign.

With the relocation approved it clears the way for another interested party to establish a team in North Bay for the 2014-2015 season.

“We have a group that has expressed serious interest in operating a franchise in North Bay next season and we’re hopeful a suitable deal for all sides can be reached between this group and the City of North Bay to keep Jr. A hockey, which has been a staple in that community, for many, many years, ” added Mazzuca.