NOJHL preseason preview: Hearst Lumberjacks

SUDBURY, Ont. – Set to commence their second season in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Hearst Lumberjacks look to improve on a successful inaugural campaign as they busily gear up for 2018-19.

Under the guidance of head coach and general manager Marc Lafleur, the Lumberjacks aim to qualify for the league playoffs for a second straight year as they come off a fourth-place finish in the NOJHL’s East Division in one year of league play.

The club’s initial season in Hearst was also successful off the ice as they drew over 20,000 fans to Claude Larose Arena throughout the course of 2017-18 while finishing third overall in the 12-team NOJHL in attendance.

They open league preseason play Wednesday evening on home ice as they welcome the defending NOJHL champion Cochrane Crunch to Claude Larose Arena in a 7 p.m. start before wrapping up exhibition play with a home-and-home against Timmins Thursday and Friday.

Here’s a look at what fans can hope to see from the Lumberjacks in this latest NOJHL Q&A preseason preview.

NOJHL: What are your expectations for the club heading into the 2018-19 season?

MARC LAFLEUR: To have success and win games through grit and hard work.

NOJHL: What you’ve seen from your team and hopefuls for the roster so far in training camp?

M.L.: We’ve had great intensity and compete level. The team knows that to get the win they must bring their work boots and sacrifice on that night.

NOJHL: Who are a couple of returning players you expect big things from?

M.L.: Max Lacroix will be a dominant two-way D-man in our league. As a rookie last season, he had 19 points, including four goals, and was solid on both ends of the ice. Max Griffioen is expected to be a dominant top line point getter for our club. He played at nearly a point-per-game pace in 2017-18 and was among our scoring leaders with 21 goals and 30 assists to his credit.

NOJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that have impressed in training camp?

M.L.: Jake Desando is a six-foot-three-inch, 190-pound skilled forward with great speed and great release. He played in the GOJHL the past two seasons. He will be impressive. Matt Eardley is a defenceman who has been overlooked in the Ottawa area. He will bring great two-way play. In net 20-year-old goalie Nic Tallarico brings over 40 games experience in the BCHL and over a .900 save percentage. Also, netminder Tomi Gagnon is six-foot-two with great technical skills and poise. Goaltending is expected to be the dominant area of our team.

NOJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season?

M.L.: As in any other year, win the league championship. As well, the ability to move the players to the next level, with success, in also very important to our organization.