SUDBURY, Ont. – As the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners get set to host the Powassan Voodoos tonight in a battle for top spot in the overall Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League standings, it’s clear parity has played a large part in game action throughout the first half of regular season schedule.
As the NOJHL surpasses the midway point of the 2018-19 campaign, only seven points separate first from seventh in the overall 12-team league standings.
The winner of tonight’s match-up in Kirkland Lake will take over top spot overall and move one point clear of the Soo Thunderbirds, who do however hold multiple games in hand on every other club in league.
So far 10 of the teams have produced 10 victories or more and six have 15 triumphs or better as December nears while both the French River Rapids and Espanola Express are well on pace to register their highest win totals in recent seasons.
WINNING DEBUT: Former Elliot Lake Wildcats head coach and general manager Corey Bricknell had a winning debut in his new role as bench boss with the Dunaújvárosi Acélbikák Steel Bulls in the Erste League, an 11-team professional loop that features clubs in Hungary, Austria and Romania.
Bricknell’s side picked up a 3-2 home ice win in his opening contest over second place Ferencvaros on Nov. 23 before falling 5-2 on the road two nights later vs. Corona Brasov, who sit in third spot in the 11-team league.
Dunaújvárosi Acélbikák enters play this week sitting seventh overall with a 9-10-2-1 record.
As for the Wildcats, they picked up their first win for freshly minted head coach and GM Trevor Ritchie who was promoted following Bricknell’s departure along with newly added associate coach Gord Ouimet who steps in from the local AAA midget ranks.
NOJHL ACTION IN LITTLE CURRENT: Friday night will see some NOJHL neutral site action as the Cochrane Crunch and Espanola Express head to Little Current for a regular season contest at the Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands Recreation Centre.
Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m.
LATER START: Saturday’s December 1 league contest that has Espanola visiting the Soo Eagles at venerable Pullar Stadium will have a later start.
This match-up will now get underway at 7:30 p.m. instead of the originally scheduled 7 p.m. face-off.
ON A ROLL: Both the Soo Thunderbirds and Powassan Voodoos have been the hottest teams in the NOJHL as of late.
Each team has gone 8-2 in their past 10 outings while eight squads have played .500 hockey or better in the same span while two more are just off the pace.
FAN SUPPORT: For a second straight season the Timmins Rock, Hearst Lumberjacks and Soo Eagles are paving the way in NOJHL attendance.
Both the Rock and Lumberjacks are averaging over 700 fans a night while the Eagles boast over 630 per game.
Through 165 games, 57,638 spectators have attended league contests plus the solid crowds drawn both days of the NOJHL Showcase in Sudbury back in October.
Those numbers have the league on pace to surpass its attendance numbers from the 2017-18 campaign when just under 113,000 spectators took in regular season play.
POINT PARADE: Entering league play tonight, 15 NOJHL skaters have produced 25 or more points this season.
Topping the table is Lucas Theriault (Soo Thunderbirds) who has produced a league-best 36 points to date, including 17 goals.
Gregory Trudeau-Paquet (Kirkland Lake Gold Miners) and Caleb Serre (Blind River Beavers) are right behind him with 35 points apiece.
Riley Nadeau (Blind River Beavers) leads the league in goals with 19, which is just ahead of Derek Seguin’s (Timmins Rock) 18.
The league assists leader is Brendan Young (Blind River Beavers) while Noah Boman (Soo Thunderbirds) is next at 23 and 22 respectively.
D-MAN CONTRIBUTIONS: Steven Bellini (Soo Thunderbirds) leads all NOJHL defencemen in offensive production with 23 points to his credit.
Next is Maxim Lacroix (Hearst Lumberjacks) (22 pts) followed by Ryan Mulligan (Blind River Beavers) (21 pts).
1ST-YEAR SUCCESS: Philippe Daoust (French River Rapids) continues to lead all league rookies in scoring.
He is playing at a point-per-game pace with 29 in as many outings on 11 markers and 18 helpers.
He is a half dozen points clear of Caleb Wood (Soo Eagles) who has 23 points to his credit.
TOP TENDERS: NOJHL single-season shutout record holder Tyler Masternak (Timmins Rock) has had a solid first half of the season.
Masternak leads all league netminders in wins, goals-against average and shutouts with 16, 1.95 and six respectively.
Rookies Joe Vrbetic (Powassan Voodoos) and Gregory Brassard (Kirkland Lake Gold Miners) are one-two in save percentage at .935 and .930.
NOJHL NOTES: Blind River leads the league in goals scored with 110 while the Soo Thunderbirds have allowed a NOJHL-low 63 against. Of note, Timmins has given up just 65, but have played four more games. … The Thunderbirds are 13-2 on home ice while Powassan is 14-4. Meanwhile Kirkland Lake has only lost once at home while picking up 11 victories. … Blind River and Timmins share the league lead in road wins with eight apiece. … Derek Seguin (Timmins) and Riley Nadeau (Blind River) lead all NOJHL skaters in power play goals with eight each. … Austin Whelan (Cochrane) has notched a league-best four shorthanded tallies to date. … Defenceman Steven Bellini (Thunderbirds) and forward Caleb Serre (Blind River) share top spot in power play points with 16. … Kaidan McDonald (Thunderbirds), Jacob Stos (Cochrane) and Tomas Yachmenev (Powassan) are tied for first in game-winning goals with four apiece. … Joel Rainville (Espanola) leads in saves with 713 followed by Dominic Boily (Elliot Lake) at 542 and Marshall Frappier (French River) with 539. … Of the four penalty shots awarded so far this season, only Nick Belisle (Rayside-Balfour) has been the only one to score. … Powassan is a league-best 3-1 in overtime games. … The Soo Thunderbirds are a perfect 3-0 in games decided by a shootout. Timmins is next at 2-0 in extra shots. … When scoring first in games NOJHL teams are a combined 121-38-4-2. … Every league club is over .500 when notching the night’s opening tally. … The Thunderbirds are 15-1 when scoring first; Timmins is 16-5; Powassan is 13-4; Cochrane is 12-3-0-1; Kirkland Lake 11-2; Elliot Lake 10-3; Blind River 9-2-2-1; Rayside-Balfour 9-5-1-0; Soo Eagles 8-2; Hearst 8-3; French River 6-5-1 & Espanola 4-3. … The Thunderbirds are first in the league in power play proficiency at 22.1% having scored 31 times in 140 chances. … Rayside-Balfour is second at 21.4% (25-117) while Blind River is third at 21.2% (31-146). … The Soo Eagles are tops in penalty kill success at 88.9% allowing only 14 against in the126 times they have been shorthanded. … Timmins sits second at 86.4% (21-154) while Powassan is third at 86.1% (17-122). … Cochrane leads the league in shorthanded goals with eight while French River and Rayside-Balfour are close behind with seven each. … Blind River leads the league in first period goals with 34; Kirkland Lake is tops in second stanza markers with 48 while Powassan paces the pack in third period tallies with 42. … The Thunderbirds are 13-1 when leading after one with Kirkland Lake 10-2 and Timmins 10-3. … Up after 40 minutes has Kirkland Lake sitting at 15-2-1; the Thunderbirds 12-1; Timmins 12-2; Powassan 9-0; Blind River 10-1-1; Cochrane 10-0-0-1; Soo Eagles 8-0; Elliot Lake 7-0-0-1; Hearst 8-1-0-1; French River 6-1-1-1; Rayside-Balfour 9-1-1-0 and Espanola 2-0. … In one goal games the Thunderbirds are a NOJHL-best 10-2. … In contests decided by two goals, Powassan is tops at 7-0. …When leading after two periods, home teams have only lost twice in regulation and twice in a shootout in 73 games. … When up after two periods of play the visiting squad has gone 38-7-4-2. … Espanola’s Bret McInall has scored in each of his past four games. … Derek Seguin (Timmins) has assists in four straight while Nicolas Flanders (Cochrane) and Riley Nadeau (Blind River) have both etched their names on the score sheet in seven straight outings. … The Thunderbirds have a current league-high five game winning streak on the go with Timmins having won four in succession and Blind River three. … A total of 14 players have registered hat tricks so far this season, including a five-goal night by Riley Nadeau (Blind River) and four-goal performances courtesy of the French River Rapids duo of Levi Siau and Philippe Daoust. … There have been 18 shutouts posted so far this season, including six by Tyler Masternak (Timmins) and three by Dawson Rodin (Kirkland Lake). … There were 26 shutouts in regular season action in 2017-18. … The Soo Thunderbirds were tabbed eighth in the most recent CJHL Top 20 rankings out of 133 clubs overall.
With files from NOJHL Statistician/Historian David Harrison