NORTHERN ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
Release Date: Friday, Dec. 13, 2013
NOJHL SPOTLIGHT: Joel Horodziejczyk, Soo Thunderbirds
SUDBURY – In the past two and half months there has arguably been no been no better goaltender statistically in the 128-team Canadian Junior Hockey League than Soo Thunderbirds netminder Joel Horodziejczyk.
Entering weekend action in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Sault Ste. Marie stopper has been unbeatable since he began an impressive winning streak back in early October.
In that span the 18-year-old Horodziejczyk has reeled off 14 consecutive victories in league play and also added another triumph at last month’s CJHL Prospects event in Nova Scotia.
Since getting the nod in an Oct. 2 contest vs. Sudbury to this past Sunday’s win over Espanola, the Sudbury product has only allowed 19 goals against in that 14-win run boasting an impressive 1.36 average and an equally stellar .946 save mark.
Overall he sports a 17-2 win-loss record and currently tops all NOJHL netminders in both goals-against average and save percentage at 1.79 and .931 respectively. He also leads the way with two shutouts and minutes played at 1,140.
Comparing his numbers against all CJHL competition, Horodziejczyk boasts the second-best average among all puck stoppers among those who have seen a minimum of 1,000 minutes of game action to date. He is also knotted for the fourth best save mark in the CJHL in that same time frame.
His 17 victories presently leads the NOJHL and also ties him for eighth nationally, but doing so in just 19 appearances gives the Thunderbirds goalkeeper the best winning percentage in the CJHL at .895.
Eight wins into his current streak Horodziejczyk earned the nod to be one of those selected to represent the NOJHL at the CJHL Prospects Games in Nova Scotia and it was an occasion he took full advantage of.
On the national stage the T-Birds tender was just as solid backstopping Team East to a President’s Cup crown with a stellar 36-save performance in a 4-2 victory over Team West in the series finale.
Having the opportunity to perform at such an elite level is something last season’s NOJHL rookie of the year will savour for quite some time.
“The Prospects games was an experience of a lifetime and without a doubt something that I will never forget,” offered Horodziejczyk. “Everything about it was amazing; from the quality of hockey, to the atmosphere, to the way we were treated by staff, volunteers, and fans, it was great. The atmosphere was unbelievable.”
Receiving the nod to start game No. 2 of the two-game, total-goal series, he was impressed with the level of skill he witnessed on both teams.
“The calibre of talent that I faced and played with in Nova Scotia was really high and everyone was very fast and very skilled, “he stated. “Getting the opportunity to play with and against the top 40 prospects from across Canada was awesome and to be able to play at the same calibre with them was definitely a great feeling.”
While Horodziejczyk made his presence felt at the two-day event, he also knows that others from the NOJHL that were also there certainly impressed for Team East, which was coached by Espanola Rivermen bench boss Tom McCarthy.
“It was awesome that all of the guys from the NOJHL produced like they did. Both Ryan Punkari (Sudbury Nickel Capitals) and Cray Roberge (Espanola Rivermen) had two great games and it’s nice to see that the north had such a great showing while we were there.”
Earning the CJHL Prospects invite was the third time already the talented goaltender has had an opportunity to represent the NOJHL this season.
This past August he played for a league-squad at the Ontario Select Summer Showcase in Cornwall, which featured plenty of exceptional talent as well.
“The Ontario Summer Select Showcase was a great experience and high quality hockey,” said Horodziejczyk. “The skill level at the Prospects games was similar, but in some ways better than that of the Ontario Summer Select Showcase because it was the top 40 players from across Canada, rather than the top 80 or so from Ontario.
From there he went on to receive an invite to attend the Canada East selection camp for the World Jr. A Challenge.
Returning to Sault Ste. Marie after his performance at the CJHL Prospects it was much more of the same for the Thunderbirds netminder.
He tacked on a half dozen more triumphs to help his side solidify their place atop the NOJHL standings along with his netminding partner in rookie Brian Kment, who has been no slouch himself as his 10-4 record along with a 1.97 goals-against average and .908 save percentage would indicate.
Just two wins shy from matching the 19 he recorded all of last season with the Soo, Horodziejczyk credits his efforts to a basic approach.
“I would attribute my success to just keeping things simple and taking each game a period at a time,” says the NOJHL’s Gongshow Gear player of the month for October. “I just try helping out my team in any way I can to win games. It also helps that I have a great team in front of me as they help make my job easier.”
He is also quick to credit the efforts of first-year Thunderbirds head coach Jordan Smith.
“Coach Smith is a very intense coach with lots of knowledge of the game,” claims the second team all-star goaltender honour that he garnered in his rookie campaign in the league last season. “He pushes us day in and day out to always be better and has helped our team in a big way.”
With interest at a number of levels from NCAA schools Horodziejczyk maintains a team-first attitude when discussing his future objectives.
“My goal for the rest of the season is to do whatever it takes to help my team win the league, as well as the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, and the RBC Cup,” he stated. “Beyond this season I hope to obtain an NCAA Division 1 scholarship, get my education while playing hockey at a high level in doing so and then take hockey as far as I can.”
In the meantime the Horodziejczyk and the Thunderbirds have three games remaining prior to the holiday break, including two on home ice at Essar Centre where they have yet to lose so far this season.
After a few days to celebrate Christmas with family and friends he will look to keep his outstanding campaign intact as he’ll be part of Team NOJHL that will be off to Terrebone, Que., to compete in the three-day Central Canada Cup Challenge.
Along with the NOJHL, this event will also feature some of the top players from the Ontario Junior Hockey League, Central Canada Hockey League and Quebec Jr. AAA Hockey League showcasing their skills as they play in front of Jr. A hockey fans and a multitude of scouts from every level alike.