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Logjam atop NOJHL East standings gearing up to be settled

4 teams still with chance at East Division title; West champion Soo Thunderbirds wait for their division to play out

SUDBURY, Ont. – While the overall regular season and West Division champions has been determined in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League standings, it remains a hotly-contested race over in the NOJHL East, with just a week to go in the regular season.

Entering the final stretch of the 2018-19 campaign, only eight points divide first from fifth in the East with four of those clubs still having an opportunity to secure the divisional title.

With those mere eight points separating first through fifth in the NOJHL East, this is the one of the closest divisional races in league history, featuring at least five clubs.

According to the fact-filled files courtesy of NOJHL Statistician and Historian David Harrison, the last time five league teams were this close to each other in the standings, it was back 40 years ago when only seven points divided first through fifth, and that was only during a 40-game season.

During the 1978-79 campaign the Sudbury Cubs paced the pack with 50 points followed by the Nickel Centre Native Sons (49); Onaping Falls Huskies (45); Capreol Hawks (45) and the then Rayside-Balfour Canadians (43).

Meanwhile in 2004-05, 11 points separated first through fifth overall that saw the North Bay Skyhawks finish on top with 68 points during a 48-game slate.

After that, North Bay was followed by the Abitibi Eskimos (65); Northern Michigan Black Bears (63); Blind River Beavers (57) and the Soo Thunderbirds (57).

This season’s run sees the Hearst Lumberjacks holding down top spot in the East with 71 points while two games remaining on their schedule.

Hearst would claim their initial divisional crown with wins in their final two contests or by a combination of losses and/or ties by those teams currently below them in the standings.

The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners are three points in arrears of the Lumberjacks with a trio of tilts on tap.

Next, the Timmins Rock are just one point back of Kirkland Lake with a pair of contests on their slate.

Sitting in fourth in the East, with four games remaining, the Powassan Voodoos have 64 points, one ahead of the defending NOJHL champion and 2019 Dudley-Hewitt Cup host Cochrane Crunch, who have two contests left on their docket.

The final week of regular season play will determine the final rankings and which two sides will commence the East & West Division playoffs with a best-of-three play-in survivor series that will see the No. 4 and No. 5 divisional seeded teams squaring off.

Over in the NOJHL West, the Soo Thunderbirds have already clinched their division crown as well as the No. 1 overall seed for the upcoming postseason as regular season title holders.

It has also been decided that the Elliot Lake Wildcats (43pts) will finish fifth in the NOJHL West, but who they play in their best-of-three first round series has yet to be decided.

Entering action tonight, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians hold down second in the West with 61 points and have four games remaining followed by the Soo Eagles (57) and the Blind River Beavers (53) with both of those squads also having four contests on their respective slates.

The Espanola Express (West) and French River Rapids (East) will not qualify for the postseason.

Each league first round quarter-final, play-in, survivor series schedule will be released by the NOJHL once they are finalized.

All NOJHL games are streamed live online via HockeyTV.com.

NOJHL East Division: Remaining games

Hearst
March 1: vs. Kirkland Lake 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Arena)
March 2: vs. Powassan 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Arena)

Kirkland Lake
March 1: @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Arena)
March 2: vs. Timmins 7 p.m. (Joe Mavrinac Community Complex)
March 6: vs. French River 7:30 p.m. (Joe Mavrinac Community Complex)

Timmins
March 2: @ Kirkland Lake 7 p.m. (Joe Mavrinac Community Complex)
March 3: vs. Powassan 2 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)

Powassan
March 1: @ Cochrane 7 p.m. (Tim Horton Events Centre)
March 2: @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Arena)
March 3: @ Timmins 2 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)
March 7: vs. French River 7 p.m. (Sportsplex)

Cochrane
March 1: vs. Powassan 7 p.m. (Tim Horton Events Centre)
March 3: @ Rayside-Balfour 6:30 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)

French River
March 6: @ Kirkland Lake 7:30 p.m. (Joe Mavrinac Community Complex)
March 7: @ Powassan 7 p.m. (Sportsplex)

NOJHL West Division: Remaining games

Soo Thunderbirds
March 1: @ Soo Eagles 7:30 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
March 2: vs. Soo Eagles 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
March 6: @ Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)

Rayside-Balfour Canadians
Feb. 28: vs. Espanola 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
March 1: @ Espanola 7:30 p.m. (Regional Recreation Complex)
March 3: vs. Cochrane 6:30 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
March 5: vs. Soo Eagles 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)

Soo Eagles
March 1: vs. Soo Thunderbirds 7:30 p.m. (Pullar Stadium)
March 2: @ Soo Thunderbirds 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
March 3: vs. Elliot Lake 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)*
March 5: @ Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)

Blind River Beavers
Feb. 28: vs. Elliot Lake 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)*
March 2: vs. Elliot Lake 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
March 3: @ Espanola 2 p.m. (Regional Recreation Complex)
March 6: vs. Soo Thunderbirds 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)

Elliot Lake Wildcats
Feb. 28: vs. Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)*
March 2: vs. Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
March 3: vs. Soo Eagles 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)*

Espanola Express
Feb. 28: @ Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Chelmsford Arena)
March 1: vs. Rayside-Balfour 7 p.m. (Regional Recreation Complex)
March 3: vs. Blind River 2 p.m. (Regional Recreation Complex)

*- Denotes game will be played at Blind River Community Centre with the Elliot Lake Wildcats serving as the home team.