Randy Russon: Early October in the NOJHL

It is in the vicinity of a month into the 2022-2023 regular season for the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. So, let us take a team by team, alphabetical roundabout through the two divisions of the 12 member NOJHL.

Noticeably, the West Division as a whole has been much stronger than the East Division to date. As in, the bottom three teams on the East side are also the lower three clubs in the entire league.


Cameron Frost

Cochrane Crunch. The Crunch is nowhere near being a contender and is probably another forward and defenseman away from becoming more of a challenger. But that is okay. Just making the playoffs this season is the prompt, at present time goal for owner/coach Tom Nickolau and a Crunch crew that had a league worst record of 2-43-3 in 2021-2022. The ’22-23 edition of the Crunch took just seven games to match its ’21-22 win total and 11 outings to register its third victory of this season for a modest record of 3-7-1. Besides that, there have been two close losses to a good Hearst team that is somewhat encouraging for the Crunch. At any rate, Cochrane does have a much better lineup this season with first year players such as goalies Marcus Ouellet and Jake Dubinsky, defenseman Blake Menard and forwards Cameron Frost and Morgan Porter all having made a good, early impression. Notably, Ouelette is an Ontario Hockey League supplemental draft pick of the Sarnia Sting. Interestingly, Frost and Porter are both in Cochrane all the way from Canada’s distant east coast of Newfoundland-Labrador. Meanwhile, another first year forward, Timmins product Desmond Brazeau, is starting to pick up his overall game after a cautious start. When mini mite Brazeau is relentless on the forecheck and playing a clean, physical brand of hockey, he is that much more emphatic and forceful. And prominently, holdover forward Liam Boswell has been a point per game producer for the Crunch.

French River Rapids. The Rapids made the playoffs for the first time in ’21-22 in a franchise history that began in 2015. While the ’21-22 version of the Rapids was veteran laden, the ’22-23 edition features more younger players. After starting this season with six straight setbacks, the Rapids have since rebounded with a couple of victories. Notable performers thus far for French River have been goalies Brady Dyer and Ben Gustafson and forwards Josh Russell, Jordan Bay and Matthew Campanella.

Mathieu Comeau

Hearst Lumberjacks. A high scoring, free wheeling team, coached by Marc-Alain Begin, the defending East Division champion Lumberjacks have an impressive array of offensive weapons sparked by Riley Klugerman, Zachary Demers, Mason Svarich, Ty Patterson and homegrown sensation Mathieu Comeau. All have been putting big points on the board in the early going of this season. And between the pipes, newcomer Ethan Dinsdale has been exceptional.

Kirkland Lake Gold Miners. Since parting ways with winning general manager and coach Ryan Wood a few years back, the Gold Miners have been spinning their wheels with little momentum. Kirkland Lake had the second worst record in the NOJHL in ’21-22. And the start to the ’22-23 season has not been good under holdover Gold Miners coach/general manager Kyle Smart with losses that include lopsided scores of 8-2, 7-1, 8-0 and 7-3. Through its first 10 games of this season, Kirkland Lake was at the bottom of the rung on the East side with a league worst record of 1-9-0.

Powassan Voodoos. It doesn’t seem to matter who is coaching the Voodoos, they have been an annual contender over the eight seasons that Chris Dawson has been the general manager. And this season is no different with former Ontario Jr. Hockey League mainstay bench boss Peter Goulet now the head coach in Powassan, which is again in a rousing race for first place with Hearst and Timmins. Impressively, 17-year old goalie Dan Dirracolo has stood tall in the Powassan net.

Timmins Rock. The Rock has cooled down a fair bit after a sizzling start but is nonetheless in contender category for the long haul. Timmins coach/general manager Brandon Perry has made it clear that the Rock has aspirations and intentions of winning the league championship this season after losing to Hearst in Game 7 of the division finals in the spring. Thus far this season, Nicholas Frederick, Brady Harroun, Nicolas Pigeon, Nolan Ring and defenseman Kenyon Nyman are the leading point-getters in front of Rock solid goalies Patrick Boivin and Jacob Brown. The 16-year old Brown is a top goalie prospect of the Flint Firebirds of the OHL.


Charlie Burns

Blind River Beavers. The small market Beavers boasted the NOJHL’s best record through 10 games led by two goalies from Sault Ste. Marie who are also step brothers — veteran Gavin Disano and rookie Charlie Burns. The 16-year old Burns is an OHL draft pick of the Niagara Ice Dogs. Scoring wise, the Beavers have been led by Caleb Minns, Jesse Dupuis, Evan Fraccaro, Kaeden McArthur and Noah Aboflan. Dupuis (Iroquois Falls), McArthur (Timmins) and Aboflan (Elliot Lake) are all northern Ontario boys. Blind River’s 9-1-0 record through the first 10 games of the season is the Beavers best start in their NOJHL franchise history that dates back to 2001.

Elliot Lake Red Wings. Elliot Lake won both of its games at the NOJHL Showcase Tournament to move back into the thick of the race in the Wild West. Silas Crawford, local product Alex Antoine and defenseman Calum McGill have stood out for the Red Wings through the 10 game mark, which produced a record of 5-5-0. Second year goalie Cameron Smith has been rounding into form for the Red Wings as of late. Notably, Elliot Lake general manager Mark Savery has not been shy to pull the trigger on a major trade since coming over to the NOJHL and the Red Wings in ’21-22.

Espanola Paper Kings. Formerly the Express, the renamed Paper Kings have taken a bit of a dip since starting the season with a 5-1-1 record. But Espanola has good players in place led by productive forwards Atley Gringorten and Yan Bessette and defensemen Josh Rumolo and Aiden Pethick. And 16-year old rookie goalie Drew Gaulton, who is a prize prospect and second round draft pick of the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, has played rather well thus far for the Paper Kings.

Logan Raffaele

Soo Eagles. Backstopped by first-year starting goalie Logan Raffaele, the Eagles are a hard working group coached by Doug Laprade that features an assortment of high end forwards who have led the way in the early going. They include Jack Mortson, Chase Talllaire, Brian Fiddes and local lad Kenny Belanger. Rookie defenseman Michael Stec has stood out on the blue line. As an aside, long-time Eagles president and general manager Bruno Bragagnolo is one of the hardest working and more diverse junior hockey operators in the game and he provides the team with the resources to be successful year in and year out. Bragagnolo has been a constant with the Eagles since 2010.

Soo Thunderbirds. The reigning NOJHL champions have been an up and down team in the early going and had an uncharacteristic record of 4-6-0 through the first 10 games of the season. Notably, since entering the NOJHL in 1999, the Thunderbirds have never had a season in which they finished below the .500 mark. As for this season, recent reinforcements to the Thunderbirds from the OHL Soo Greyhounds are a pair of high picks from the 2022 priority selections draft in goalie Landon Miller and defenseman Brodie McConnell-Barker. Miller was a second round pick at the ’22 OHL priority selections and McConnell-Barker was the Greyhounds’ third rounder. Meanwhile, early season producers for the Thunderbirds have been forwards Dharan Cap, Youssef Chaouachi and local lad Michael Chaffay.

Sudbury Cubs. Along with Blind River, Sudbury just may be the most gifted offensive team on the West side. The fleet of top point producers for the Cubs includes forwards Pierson Sobush, Billy Biedermann, Cameron Walker, Cole Crowder, rookie Nolan Newton and defenseman Kyloe Ellis. Sudbury has as an experienced coaching staff as there is in the NOJHL led by bench boss Darryl Moxam and the ageless Dave Clancy. Moxam is fresh from a several season stint in the OHL as an associate coach with the Sudbury Wolves while the crusty Clancy is a former NOJHL coach of the year.

Randy Russon, Contributor
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