Gold Miners retain top spot

Kirkland Lake Gold Miners goalie Devon Debastos, shown here pouncing on a loose puck during a game against the Abitibi Eskimos at the McIntyre Arena on Sept. 19, is tied with Eskimos goalie Braddock Baalerud for the best goals against average in the NOJHL — 1.00 — following the first three weeks of the schedule.

Kirkland Lake Gold Miners goalie Devon Debastos, shown here pouncing on a loose puck during a game against the Abitibi Eskimos at the McIntyre Arena on Sept. 19, is tied with Eskimos goalie Braddock Baalerud for the best goals against average in the NOJHL — 1.00 — following the first three weeks of the schedule.

TIMMINS - With Week 3 in the books, there is a three-way tie atop the leaderboard when it comes to the NOJHL scoring race.

Kirkland Lake Gold Miners forward Steven Babin, who has led the league in scoring or been tied for the lead since Week 1, has 11 points, as do his Gold Miners teammate Tristen Hazlett and Cochrane Crunch forward Cody Gratton.

Babin and Hazlett are two of five Gold Miners in the Top 10 in scoring.

Jeremy Dumont (9 points), Ryan Swain (8 points) and Luc Soares (8 points) are the other three.

The other four non-Gold Miners in the Top 10 are Abitibi Eskimos forward Brady Clouthier (8 points), Powassan Voodoos forward Steve Harland (8 points), Sudbury Nickel Barons forward Christopher Rossi (8 points) and Cochrane Crunch forward Dustin Cordeiro (8 points).

When it comes to goal scoring, there is four-way tie atop the NOJHL leaderboard.

Clouthier, Cordeiro, Hazlett and Voodoos forward Nathaniel McLeod have all found the back of the net six times.

Mattawa Blackhawks forward Alex Hulford, with five goals, is right behind the leaders.

Babin, one of the top playmakers in the NOJHL, has nine assists, to lead that category.

Dumont and Gratton each have seven helpers, while Rossi, Harland and Cochrane Crunch forward Aviv Milner each have six.

Nickel Barons defenceman Khadyn Butterfly, McLeod, Hulford and Voodoos forward Shane Woolsey have three power-play goals each, to lead the NOJHL in that category.

Gratton, who seems to get at least a couple of breakaways every time the Crunch are killing a penalty, not surprisingly leads the league with three short-handed goals.

Meanwhile, Swain, Butterfly, Gratton and Nickel Barons forward Jimmy Roy each have two game-winning goals, tops in the NOJHL.

Gold Miners goalie Devon Debastos, a Timmins native, and Eskimos netminder Braddock Baalerud are tied for the lead in the league with 1.00 goals against averages.

Rounding out the Top 5 are Kenny Fitzgerald, of the Gold Miners, (1.67); Mario Culina, of the Soo Thunderbirds, (2.00); and Matt Young, of the Crunch, (2.33).

Baalerud, the 17 year old who won his first two NOJHL starts last week, also leads the NOJHL in saves percentage (.971).

The others in the Top 5 are Debastos (.949), Young (.944), Nickel Barons goalie Kevin Labelle (.938) and Voodoos netminder Jack Ondrovic (.933).

Young, Fitzgerald, Debastos and Elliot Lake Wildcats goalie A.J. Smith each have one shutout, to lead the NOJHL.

And now on to Tom’s Top 9 NOJHL power rankings (the first number indicates this week’s ranking, the second last week’s and the third my preseason prediction).

1. (1-3) Gold Miners (4-1-0-0) — Kirkland Lake suffered its first loss of the season Friday night (2-1 to the Eskimos) in Timmins, but they rebounded nicely to pound the Blackhawks the following night. Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur told me following Friday night’s loss that his team was not as good as its previous 3-0-0-0 record suggested, but I would disagree with the humble coach. The Gold Miners have a solid goaltending duo in Fitzgerald and Debastos, a steady defence led by all-star Jeremy Picard-Fiset and Ethan Strong and a deadly attack featuring weapons such as Babin, Hazlett, Dumont, Swain and Soares, as well as players like Joel Fortin (5, 4-2-6, 2), Tyler Romain (5, 2-4-6, 7) and Charles-Ettienne Bruneau-Crete (5, 3-1-4, 2). It will take more than one one-goal loss to drop the Gold Miners out of top spot. Kirkland Lake will face the Eskimos on the road again Tuesday night, before returning home to face the Blind River Beavers at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Friday night.

2. (2-2) Soo Thunderbirds (2-1-0-0) — The Thunderbirds remain at No. 2 despite a puzzling week that saw them beat the Voodoos 4-2 and then drop a 3-2 decision to the Sudbury Nickel Barons — both on home ice. The loss to the Nickel Barons was not as surprising as the closeness of their win over Powassan. Maybe after they crushed the Beavers in their first game, I was expecting too much. Nicolas Tassone (3, 3-3-6, 0) and Nicolas Sicoly (3, 3-2-5, 0) have not done much since that contest. Owen Headrick (3, 2-1-3, 2) remains a force on the blue-line, however, and Culina (120:00, 2.00, .926) and Brian Kment (60:00, 2.00, .941) give the Thunderbirds solid goaltending. The only game for the Thunderbirds this week will be on Sunday night when they host the Wildcats at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

3. (3-6) Nickel Barons (6-1-0-0) — After beating the Beavers 6-3 on home ice and going into Sault Ste. Marie and upsetting the Thunderbirds 3-2, you could argue that the Nickel Barons deserve to be ranked higher than No. 3. Their 12 points is four more than the Gold Miners and Crunch have accumulated. Rossi (7, 2-6-8, 0), Jacob Bonin (6, 2-5-7, 2), August Jarecki (6, 1-4-5, 8), Jimmy Roy (7, 2-3-5, 10) and Dylan Callaghan (6, 2-1-3, 12) give Sudbury a balanced attack and blue-liners Butterfly (4, 4-3-7, 9) and Kyle Fransen (5, 1-4-5, 2) provide plenty of support from the back end. The Nickel Barons are solid in net, as well, with Kevin Labelle (240:00, 2.50, .938) and Jessie Morin (186:54, 3.53, .890) sharing the crease. The Nickel Barons will host the Eskimos at the McClelland Arena on Wednesday night before travelling to Elliot Lake for a game against the Wildcats Friday night.

4. (5-4) Abitibi Eskimos (3-1-0-1) — A pair of 2-1 victories against the top two teams in the East Division has the Eskimos jumping up one spot this week. The Eskimos’ defence-first approach and stellar goaltending from Baalerud (120:00, 1.00, .971) combined to produce those key victories. A return of Brenden Locke (3, 2-1-3, 5) to the lineup didn’t hurt either. Locke, Clouthier (5, 6-2-8, 6) and Ryan Attwood (5, 1-4-5, 2) have developed chemistry early in the season and form a fearsome No. 1 line. If the Eskimos are going to win consistently, however, they are going to have to find some secondary scoring. The blue-line has been solid, even with captain Kevin Walker (5, 1-2-3, 8) filling in up front. Jamey Lauzon (5, 1-2-3, 10), who has seen time on the forward lines, has been rock solid, newcomer Joshua Dejulio (5, 0-1-1, 0) has played like a seasoned veteran, while Ryan Kerr (5, 1-2-3, 8) has been playing some of his best hockey since his rookie season. The Eskimos host the Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena Tuesday night, travel to Sudbury for a game against the Nickel Barons Wednesday night and then entertain the Beavers Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.

5. (4-1) Cochrane Crunch (4-2-0-0) — Crunch fans might protest a one-spot drop in the rankings after a week in which they feasted on the Blackhawks, again, and suffered a one-goal loss on the road against the pesky Eskis, but even coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard admits his team has struggled against teams with winning records. A glass-half-full kind of person might point out, however, that the Crunch have only surrendered four goals in those two losses. And let’s not forget the injury woes the Crunch endured last week, a situation that left them with just three healthy defencemen Friday night. Gratton (6, 4-7-11, 4), Jason Berube (6, 2-5-7, 4), Jacob Erwin (6, 3-4-7, 8), Josh Racek (6, 3-4-7, 6), Cordeiro (6, 6-2-8, 6) and Aviv Milner (6, 0-6-6, 0) have feasted on the NOJHL’s weak sisters and the return of Aaron Carmichael (2, 1-1-2, 0) should provide a boost to an already powerful offence. Newcomers Joseph Mavrin 6, 1-3-4, 2), Dustin Deugau (5, 1-2-3, 8) and Brandon Plourde (3, 1-0-1, 4) have added a little offence to a blue-line anchored by veterans Max Glashauser (4, 0-1-1, 7), Ned Simpson (3, 0-0-0, 8) and James Vuillemot (4, 0-0-0, 2). Young (180:00, 2.33, .944) and Troy Paquette (186:56, 2.57, .927) have been solid in net. The Crunch will host the Beavers at the Tim Horton Event Centre Thusday night, then travel to Mattawa for a game with the Blackhawks Saturday night.

6. (6-8) Elliot Lake Wildcats (3-1-0-0) — The Wildcats scored impressive wins against the Beavers (8-1) and the Voodoos (2-0) this week and now sit in second place in the West Division standings. The Wildcats balanced attack has been led by Alec MacKenzie (4, 2-5-7, 4), Woolsey (4, 3-4-7, 4), Spencer MacLean (4, 2-3-5, 4), Samuel Gagnon (4, 2-3-5, 0) Cole Hepler (4, 2-2-4, 4), Liam Knoll (4, 0-4-4, 6) and Liam Blais (4, 3-1-4, 2). Smith (180:00, 3.00, .908) has gotten the bulk of the starts in net for the Wildcats, while Allan Menary (60:00, 1.00, .941) was steady in his one start. For the Wildcats to climb higher in the standings, they will need to beat a team with a winning record. Their only such encounter so far led to a 7-4 loss to the Nickel Barons. The Wildcats will host Sudbury at the Centennial Arena Friday night, before heading to Sault Ste. Marie for a game with the Thunderbirds Sunday night.

7. (7-7) Powassan Voodoos (2-4-0-1) — A 10-4 victory (over Blind River) and a pair of two-goal losses (4-2 to the Thunderbirds and 2-0 to the Wildcats) suggest that things are on the upswing for coach Scott Wray’s squad. The Voodoos are starting to find their legs on offence, with Harland (7, 2-6-8, 0), McLeod (7, 6-0-6, 10), Aaron Sullivan (7, 2-3-5, 6), Michael Silveri (5, 3-1-4, 7), Aaron Dart (7, 1-3-4, 4), Jeremy St. Pierre (6, 1-3-4, 9) Kyle Moore (5, 3-1-4, 4), Bo Peltier (7, 0-4-4, 6), Tyler Gervais-Rolfe (7, 1-3-4, 2) all contributing. Jack Ondrovic (180:00, 2.67, .933) has been solid in net and forms the perfect tandem with young Ben Auger (239:03, 4.52, .890). The Voodoos don’t play any games this week, giving them plenty of time to practise and get better.

8. (9-5) Mattawa Blackhawks (0-7-0-0) — It isn’t often that team loses both games it plays (8-2 against Cochrane and 13-4 against Kirkland Lake) and still moves up in the rankings. In this case, the change indicates more about the team they vaulted over than the Blackhawks themselves. The Blackhawks take too many penalties and do not have a dynamic offensive player, or players, to generate scoring chances. Hulford (7, 5-1-6, 6) and Tyler Broderson (7, 2-3-5, 2) have been OK, but the only other players on the team with more than one goal are Josh Cameron (6, 2-1-3, 6) and Henry Yawit (7, 2-0-2, 0). Unless the Blackhawks can learn to play the trap like the Eskimos, they will have to find more offence and in a hurry. Joe Sheppard (225:50, 7.44, .851) and Josh Horner (194:10, 8.03, .795) have been peppered with shots this season and are not as bad as their stats would suggest. The Blackhawks’ quest for win No. 1 will see them host Cochrane Saturday night.

9. (8-9) Blind River Beavers (0-4-0-0) — After losing their first three games on the road, the Beavers returned home last Saturday and rewarded their loyal fans with a 10-2 loss to the Voodoos. They have now been outscored 36-7 by their opponents and have sunk to the bottom of the power rankings. Cheering for the Beavers has now become the equivalent of being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. The Beavers have yet to generate much offence, with only Matt Neault (4, 2-1-3, 6) and Dallas Miller (3, 2-0-2, 6) having more than one goal. Zach Mills (157:13, 8.01, .841) and Nick Kazmierczak (82:47, 10.87, .754) have not gotten much support from their teammates yet this season and both have seen a lot of rubber. Things may go from bad to worse for the Beavers who will play the top three teams in the East Division on the road this weekend — Cochrane Thursday night, Kirkland Lake Friday night and the Eskimos Saturday night.