NOJHL 2023-24 season preview

SUDBURY, Ont. – Once again, Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League clubs are ready to compete on the ice, this time with the commencement of the 2023-24 regular season.

All 12-member teams will take part in 58 games as part of the campaign, with 27 at home and an equal number on the road.

Meanwhile, the other two contests will be part of the annual NOJHL Showcase, which goes October 3-4 at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, in Sudbury.

The season slate is set to conclude March 17, which will be followed by the league playoffs.

The NOJHL champion will advance directly to the Centennial Cup, May 9-19, in Oakville, Ont., and will compete against the other Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) title holders, as well as the host Oakville Blades (OJHL).

Should Oakville win the Ontario Junior Hockey League crown, the OJHL finalist will also take part 11-day event for the Canadian National Jr. A championship.

FLOHOCKEY: All NOJHL games this season will be streamed live and on demand, via pay-per-view, on FLOHockey, formerly HockeyTV.

Simply visit FLOHockey.tv for more information or to register.

Here’s an early glance at each of the 12 NOJHL teams:

BLIND RIVER BEAVERS: Blind River has had a winning record in each full season under the guidance of head coach and general manager Kyle Brick. … The Beavers went 2-2 in a preseason tournament in Renfrew, Ont., this past weekend. … Newcomer Nathaniel Pretez and returning forward Michael Gallagher paced the club offensively in Renfrew with four points apiece. Goaltenders Richard Szalek and Iain Winter both had 1-1 records.

Head coach: Kyle Brick

Last season’s record: 42-11-3-2 (3rd overall)

Home opener: Friday, Sept. 7 vs. Elliot Lake 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)

ELLIOT LAKE VIKINGS: Newly rebranded Elliot Lake have gone back to their roots and will be the Vikings this season. … They had a pair of exhibition games versus Greater Sudbury leading up to the start of the season, going 0-1-1. … Dylan Leslie and Nathan Marincola registered three points each in the outings against the Cubs. … A trio of rookie goaltenders, in Matthew Vahramian, Cameron Boville and Sam Keene are all vying for time in net.

Head coach: Chris Keleher:

Last season’s record: 20-35-1-2 (9th overall) (Elliot Lake Red Wings)

Home opener: Saturday, Sept. 9 vs. Timmins 7 p.m. (Centennial Arena)

ESPANOLA PAPER KINGS: Playing four times in the Renfrew Valley Cottage Cup, forward Grant Booth impressed for Espanola by notching five goals, including the game-winner in overtime vs. Powassan in the event’s consolation final. … Paper Kings’ returnees Spencer Horgan and Graydon Guthrie chipped in with four points apiece. … Veteran goaltender Jake Marois is expected to see plenty of action between the pipes for Espanola.

Head coach: Jason Rapcewicz

Last season’s record: 29-24-2-3 (7th overall)

Home opener: Friday, Sept. 8 vs. Hearst 7:30 p.m. (Regional Recreation Complex)

FRENCH RIVER RAPIDS: French River looks to boost their place in the NOJHL standings from last season, where they finished 10th overall. … They split a two-game set against Powassan in exhibition play, falling 5-3, before winning 6-5 in OT. … Dominic Bzdyl showed some early offensive flair with a natural hat trick and a pair of assists. … Matthew Shulist added three points for the Rapids. … Goaltender Brady Dyer is back after appearing in 30 games last season and making over 900 saves.

Head coach: Paul Frustaglio

Last season’s record: 9-46-2-1 (10th overall)

Home opener: Saturday, Sept. 16 vs. Blind River 7 p.m. (Noelville Arena)

GREATER SUDBURY CUBS: A veteran-laden Cubs squad looks to improve on the 46 victories they had last season. … Darryl Moxam’s squad went 2-0 in exhibition play with a pair of triumphs over Elliot Lake. … Goaltender Noah Metivier’s first win of the 2023-24 season will be his 40th in the NOJHL. … Just over 25% of Metivier’s wins have been shutouts. … Greater Sudbury boasts lots of firepower up front with the likes of Oliver Smith, Samuel Assinewai, Cameron Walker and Cameron Shanks looking to boost the Cubs’ offensive cause. … Cole Quevillon and Christopher Innes aim to guide the team’s defensive corps.

Head coach: Darryl Moxam

Last season’s record: 46-10-2-0 (2nd overall)

Home opener: Thursday, Sept. 7 vs. Hearst 7:05 p.m. (Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex)

HEARST LUMBERJACKS: Fresh off winning the TELECO Cup over the defending SIJHL champion Kam River Fighting Walleye on Sunday, Hearst looks to bring the same winning ways into Thursday’s season opener at Greater Sudbury. … Tyler Patterson is just three points shy of 100 in his NOJHL career. … Meanwhile teammate Mathieu Comeau is only five points away from the century mark. … Adam Shillinglaw is expected to anchor the Lumberjacks on the back-end while first-year goalkeepers Russ Decoste and Tristan Boileau both looked sharp in preseason action.

Head coach: Marc-Alain Bégin

Last season’s record: 43-13-2-0 (4th overall)

Home opener: Friday, Sept. 15 vs. Elliot Lake 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)

IROQUOIS FALLS STORM: The NOJHL returns to Iroquois Falls for the first time since 2017 when the Abitibi Eskimos competed in the league. … The Storm split exhibition encounters with Kirkland Lake, falling 5-3 at home and winning 4-2 on the road. … Alex Chewanish led Iroquois Falls offensively with a goal and four helpers. … Rookie goaltenders Alexis Mongrain and Connor Dunham-Fox are expected to make their NOJHL debuts as is rookie head coach Kevin Walker behind the bench. Walker did play four seasons in the league with the Eskimos, including three as team captain.

Head coach: Kevin Walker

Last season’s record: 7-49-1-1 (12th overall) (Cochrane Crunch)

Home opener: Friday, Sept. 8 vs. Kirkland Lake 7 p.m. (Jus Jordan Arena)

KIRKLAND LAKE GOLD MINERS: Richard Schoeneich is back for his first full season behind the Kirkland Lake bench. … Second-year forward Benjamin Armatage had four points in the preseason. … Cameron Allen is returning for his third season in the NOJHL. … Also with the Gold Miners once more is netminder Braydon Garnhart, who made over 1,100 saves for the team in 2022-23.

Head coach: Richard Schoeneich

Last season’s record: 7-48-1-1 (11th overall)

Home opener: Saturday, Sept. 9 vs. Hearst 7 p.m. (Joe Mavrinac Community Complex)

POWASSAN VOODOOS: It was a busy preseason for the Voodoos as they took part in six exhibition contests. … At the Valley Cottage Cup in Renfrew, Reyth Smith and Jackson Cullin topped the team offensively with three points each. … 2006 birth-year forward Caden Dubreuil also looked solid in the preseason. … Team captain Alex Little, is set to lead the Powassan blueline as he closes in on a franchise record for most points among defencemen. … Last season’s NOJHL coach of the year, Peter Goulet, is back for another campaign behind the bench, after seeing seven Powassan players move on to the next level.

Head coach: Peter Goulet

Last season’s record: 37-20-1-0 (6th overall)

Home opener: Friday, Sept. 8 vs. French River 7 p.m. (Powassan Sportsplex)

SOO EAGLES: After finishing just under .500 last season, while going 26-27-4-1 overall, the Eagles will look to once again qualify for the league playoffs in 2023-24. … The Soo still moved nine players on to the next level, who made collegiate commitments to various schools across the U.S. … With a good mix of returning players and youthful exuberance are gearing up to see game action, after not competing in the preseason. … 22-goal man Kenny Belanger Jr., aims to surpass his offensive totals from a year ago. … A trio of new goaltenders, in Marino Ramirez, Anthony Zolezzi and Michael Shelley are all new to the NOJHL.

Head coach: Doug LaPrade

Last season’s record: 26-27-4-1 (8th overall)

Home opener: Friday, Sept. 22 vs. Iroquois Falls (Pullar Stadium)

SOO THUNDERBIRDS: A perennial power, the Thunderbirds are readying for their 25th year in the NOJHL. … Cole Jarrett’s squad went all the way to the league final last season, after winning it all the campaign before. … Kolton Bourret won 19 times as a rookie in net for the Soo in 2022-23. … He’ll be joined by Maverick Fletcher as the T-Birds goaltending tandem to begin the season. … Veteran defenceman Kolby Fellinger has been named the club’s captain. … Up front, the Soo have some solid firepower to help supply some goals, including assistant captains Kelsey Ouellet and Jackson Truchan. … The Thunderbirds also look to see Daniel Beaupre and Samuel Lake to improve on their solid years last season.
Head coach: Cole Jarrett

Last season’s record: 36-15-3-3 (5th overall)

Home opener: Friday, Sept. 8 vs. Soo Eagles 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)

TIMMINS ROCK: The defending NOJHL champions will go in search of a repeat and another trip to the Centennial Cup. … They also claimed the regular season crown by piling up 95 points, boosted by 45 victories. … Stalwart Timmins netminder Patrick Boivin won a league-best 27 times last season while posting six shutouts and is back again for the Rock. … The likes of Harry Clark, Nolan Ring and Liam Wells are being looked upon to provide offensive numbers in Timmins. … A capable blueline bolstered by Felix Cadieux-Fredette and Kyle Trottier aim to anchor the Rock’s defensive corps. … Timmins also received approval from Hockey Canada to add a pair of players from the Ukraine to their roster, in forwards Krivoy Rog and Pavlo Kobikov.

Head coach: Brandon Perry

Last season’s record: 45-8-3-2 (1st overall)

Home opener: Friday, Sept. 15 vs. Kirkland Lake 7 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)

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