With only eleven games to be played as of March 4th in Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, teams are starting to prepare for the post-season and gearing up for their 2014 – 2015 post season first round match-ups.
The first place Soo Thunderbirds who had captured their second straight NOJHL league title will face the struggling Blind River Beavers. The Thunderbirds captured their second straight NOJHL championship on February 28th win a 5 – 4 win over the Sudbury Nickel Barons. The Thunderbird goaltending tandem of rookie Mario Culina (2.18) and veteran Brian Kment (2.71) lead the league with a goals against average of 2.44. Culina ranks second in goaltending with 22 wins. 20 year old Nick Tassone holds down sixth in scoring with 31 goals and 35 assists in 48 regular season games. In 12 regular season games, the Beavers have been outscored 85 – 16 by the Soo with the final game of the Thunderbirds season on the road on March 7th in Blind River.
The first year expansion Elliot Lake Wildcats who set a NOJHL record this season for the most wins by an expansion team and finished second in the west will hit the ice against the third place Sudbury Nickel Barons in the best of seven series. The Wildcats will head into the best of seven series with winning 9 of the 13 games and taking one tie against the Nickel Barons. Sudbury only scored 9 less goals in 13 games against Elliot Lake with the Wildcats sinking 48 and the Nickel Barons finding the Wildcats net for 37. Rookie Kevin Labelle from Garson, Ontario is third amongst NOJHL goaltenders with a goals against average of 3.17 in 1664:54 minutes in 31 games heading into Sudbury’s last three regular season games.
The east division fourth place Powassan Voodoos who came into the 2014 – 2015 for their inaugural season and guided by rookie coach Scott Wray will face the fifth place Mattawa Blackhawks in a best of three series to determine who will play the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in a best of seven series. In 13 match-ups this season the Voodoos won 9 of the 14 games with three wins coming at the Mike Rodden Arena in Mattawa. Since coach Taurean White who took over behind the bench in Mattawa in mid October have won 13 regular season NOJHL games with a record of 13 – 32 – 4. Powassan 18 year old rookie forward from Scarborough, Ontario Steve Harland will finish atop of the NOJHL scoring race for the 2014 – 2015 season.
The east division Cochrane Crunch and Abitibi Eskimos will meet in a best of seven series. The Crunch and Eskimos have been tied for in the 2014 – 2015 standings since the beginning of January. On February 19th, 20 year old Cody Gratton was handed a 6 game suspension for spearing against the Elliot Lake Wildcats. At the time, the Sudbury, Ontario native was leading the NOJHL with 52 goals and 35 assists in 44 regular season games. The Crunch and Eskimos have split the regular season ten game match-ups with winning 5 each. Cochrane has a three and two record at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls this season. At the conclusion of the 2014 – 2015 season, the Eskimos will ship their NOJHL operations to start fresh in Timmins, Ontario.
The second place NOJHL Kirkland Lake Gold Miners will sit and wait for the winner of the best of seven of series between the Mattawa Blackhawks and the Powassan Voodoos.
In seven match-ups between the Gold Miners and the Voodoos, Kirkland Lake has won six of the seven and have one game remaining on March 6th in Kirkland Lake at the Joe Mavrinac Comminity Complex against Powassan. The Gold Miners outscored the Voodoos 40 – 17 in seven match-ups. In seven games against the Mattawa Blackhawks, the Gold Miners won five of the seven games with both losses coming on the road at the Mike Rodden Arena in Mattawa. The Gold Miners only allowed the Blackhawks in score 20 goals while Kirkland Lake found the back of Mattawa’s net for 50 goals this season.
The winner of the east division will meet the winner of the west division in a best of seven series to determine the league champion.
The league champion will represent the NOJHL in Fort Frances, Ontario from April 27th – May 2nd at the Dudley Hewitt Cup in the Central Canada championships.