SUDBURY, Ont. – While it was 60 years ago the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League began its first-ever season, six decades later it’s the current 12-member clubs will commence play to determine a title holder for the 2022-23 campaign.
Back in the day, it was the Espanola Eagles that were crowned the initial winners, while the Soo Thunderbirds will enter play this season as the NOJHL’s defending champions.
On-ice action begins tonight as the Greater Sudbury Cubs entertain the Powassan Voodoos in a 7:05 p.m. start at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in the first of 300-plus regular season contests.
Here’s a brief glance at each of the 12 league-member teams:
BLIND RIVER BEAVERS
Head Coach/GM: Kyle Brick
Last season’s record: 25-17-6-0 (4th NOJHL West/7th overall)
Having led the Beavers to a winning record in each of the past five full seasons, featuring no fewer than 25 victories per campaign, Kyle Brick will look to have Blind River continue in that regard.
Preseason play saw the Beavers post a 2-1 mark.
The top four point-getters with the club are scheduled to be back, in forwards Caleb Minns, Evan Fraccaro, Jesse Dupuis and defenceman Ethan Pegg.
Netminder Gavin Disano had a career single-season best 10 victories and has had a winning record in each of his first two years in Blind River.
Head Coach: Tom Nickolau
GM: James MacEachern
Last season’s record: 2-43-1-2 (6th NOJHL East/12th overall)
At the helm for a second campaign in Cochrane, the duo of head coach Tom Nickolau and GM James MacEachern, will aim to improve on the fortunes of the Crunch in 2022-23.
Forward Liam Boswell will be looked upon to lead Cochrane offensively once again.
Boswell paced the squad in both tallies (16) and points (30) last season.
Newcomers Nicholas Summers and Jake Dubinsky are expected to see plenty of action in net for the Crunch.
ELLIOT LAKE RED WINGS
Head Coach: Chris Keleher
GM: Mark Savery
Last season’s record: 17-29-1-1 (5th NOJHL West/9th overall)
Elliot Lake welcomes a new head coach behind the bench this season in Chris Keleher.
The Red Wings went 1-1 in exhibition play and scored eight goals in total.
The team welcomes back a solid core of forwards, including the likes of Brodie Kearns and Matthew Shulist, who were their top two-point producers last season.
D-men Devin Shoreman and Cameron Dial should once again bolster the squad’s back-end as should goaltender Cameron Smith.
ESPANOLA PAPER KINGS
Head Coach: Jason Rapciewicz
GM: Marc Gagnon
Last season’s record: 13-31-4-0 (6th NOJHL West/10th overall) (Espanola Express)
It will be a new look in Espanola this season, as the Paper Kings moniker pays homage to the community’s long history in the pulp and paper industry.
Joining the franchise as their new general manager is Marc Gagnon, who will work alongside bench boss Jason Rapciewicz.
Espanola were competitive in preseason play, suffering a pair of narrow defeats, including one in a shootout.
Speedy forward Kobe Braham led the NOJHL in shorthanded goals in 2021-22 with six and added a pair of man-down assists.
Team captain Josh Romulo had 29 points on defence last season.
FRENCH RIVER RAPIDS
Head Coach/GM: Paul Frustaglio
Last season’s record: 23-24-1-0 (4th NOJHL East/8th overall)
After scoring the third-most goals in the league last season, Paul Frustaglio’s side will look to replicate, or better, that feat in 2022-23.
However, they’ll look to do so without their top five point producers from a year ago.
The Rapids were competitive in the preseason with a shootout triumph and an overtime defeat.
Newcomer Matthew Campanella impressed in those contests as he registered five points while returning forward Jackson Doyle supplied four.
GREATER SUDBURY CUBS
Head Coach: Darryl Moxam
GM: Dave Clancy
Last season’s record: 27-17-3-1 (3rd NOJHL West/6th overall)
No stranger to the NOJHL, Darryl Moxam is back behind the bench in Sudbury as he takes over the head coaching role.
He guided the Sudbury Northern Wolves to a league championship back in 2006 as well as a berth in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup final that same season.
With Dave Clancy taking over the GM role, as well as serving as Cubs’ associate coach, the team looks to be in good hands.
Boasting a solid core of returning players as well, featuring Billy Biedermann and Pierson Sobush, the duo combined for 75 points and 39 goals last season.
Head Coach: Marc-Alain Begin
GM: Jonathan Blier
Last season’s record: 35-11-2-0 (2nd NOJHL East/3rd overall)
Coming off a 35-win regular season and a trip to the NOJHL finals, head coach Marc-Alain begin will look to lead his squad to a league title this time around.
Hearst still boasts plenty of offensive fire power in their line-up, including Zachary Demers, who tied for third in league scoring in 2022-23 with an impressive 64 points in 40 outings, on a dozen tallies and an NOJHL-best 52 assists.
Newcomer Andrew Morton showed early signs of a solid campaign as well, with a four-point effort in the Lumberjacks’ lone preseason contest.
Second-year netminder Matteo Gennaro was second in wins among rookie goalies with 14.
KIRKLAND LAKE GOLD MINERS
Head Coach/GM: Kyle Smart
Last season’s record: 12-33-0-3 (5th NOJHL East/11th overall)
Winners in their lone exhibition game, the Gold Miners will look to build on that as they head into their season-opener Friday night in Timmins.
Head coach/GM Kyle Smart saw 12 different skaters collect points in their preseason triumph.
Returning forward Chance DeBolt will look to improve on his 23 points as a rookie with fellow returnees Alex McDonald and J.P. Scaringi looking to contribute once again.
Kirkland Lake have a couple of rookie goaltenders to start the season in Braydon Garnhart and John Lloyd.
Head Coach: Peter Goulet
GM: Chris Dawson
Last season’s record: 30-11-6-1 (3rd NOJHL East/5th overall)
A model of on-ice success, the Voodoos have won 30, or more, games in each of their past six years of competition.
Taking over the reigns as head coach of Powassan is veteran bench boss Peter Goulet, who won championships with the Nepean Raiders (CCHL) and the Kingston Voyageurs (OJHL) previously.
Most recently he was with the Trenton Golden Hawks (OJHL) boasting a record of 76-26-6 from 2019-22.
The Voodoos were busy in the preseason, playing five times, including taking two overtime decisions and competing against CCHL opponents in the Valley Cottage Cup in Renfrew.
Carson Ricci, Alex Little and Cameron Lemcke were among the top point producers in exhibition action.
Head Coach: Doug LaPrade
GM: Bruno Bragagnolo
Last season’s record: 33-11-2-2 (2nd NOJHL West/4th overall)
Fresh off winning the Teleco Cup series over the Kam River Fighting Walleye (SIJHL) on the road, Eagles’ head coach Doug LaPrade is bound to be optimistic heading into their NOJHL opener Friday vs. the rival Soo Thunderbirds.
Winning twice, and dropping one in a lengthy shootout, against Kam River, the Michigan Soo saw early signs of offensive production from returning forwards Chase Tallaire, Jack Mortson and Brian Fiddes.
That trio had 140 points between them last season and look to improve on that in 2022-23.
Add in a solid defensive corps, along the goaltending of Logan Raffaele and rookie Reid Ramsay, optimism should be high at Pullar Stadium this season.
Head Coach: Cole Jarrett
GM: Jamie Henderson
Last season’s record: 38-5-2-3 (1st NOJHL West/1st overall)
The defending NOJHL champion Thunderbirds should be highly competitive once again.
A perennial league power for many years, Sault Ste. Marie welcomes back nine returning players from last season’s title-winning squad.
Setting career single-season highs in goals (13), assists (29) and points (42), Brock Santa Maria looks to surpass the century mark in NOJHL points this season.
Allowing the fewest goals-against in league play a year ago, the Soo will once again rely on a solid defensive structure as they go in search of a repeat and another trip to the Centennial Cup Canadian Junior A Championship.
Rookie goalkeeper Kolton Bourret and veteran NOJHL stopper Zachary Reddy will handle the netminding duties heading into the season.
Head Coach/GM: Brandon Perry
Last season’s record: 33-8-5-2 (1st NOJHL East/2nd overall)
Last season’s NOJHL coach of the year, Brandon Perry, saw his side lead the league in goals scored with 225 and give up the second fewest against at 124, in taking the East Division title.
The Rock were active in the preseason, playing six times, including taking part against OJHL & CCHL competition at the Cottage Cup in Collingwood, Ont.
Brady Harroun and Nicolas Pigeon provided five and four points respectively at the Cottage Cup. Pigeon is the highest-scoring returning forward after collecting 47, in 38 outings, in the most-recent campaign.
A mix of returning and new talent, Timmins sees goaltenders Patrick Boivin and Jacob Brown manning the nets, while veterans Chase Longhurst and Felix Cadieux-Fredette are expected to log big minutes on defence.
TUNE IN: All NOJHL games will be streamed live, and on demand, via HockeyTV.com.
ONLINE: Visit NOJHL.com throughout the season for game recaps, features and statistical information.