NOJHL Clubs To Meet SIJHL In Showdown Series

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NOJHL clubs to meet SIJHL in Showdown Series December 28, 2012 8:09 AM

As TJHN reported on May 30th 2012, NOJHL and SIJHL To Play, both leagues made the announcement official yesterday. In individual press releases the leagues said the following:

Both the Soo Thunderbirds and Elliot Lake Bobcats will be heading to Wisconsin the first weekend in January to go up against the Minnesota Wilderness and the Fort Frances Lakers from the Superior International Junior Hockey League.

Action will open up Friday, Jan. 4 when Sault Ste. Marie meets Fort Frances at 3:30 CT/4:30 p.m. ET followed by Elliot Lake and Minnesota at 7 p.m. CT/8 p.m. ET.

Two more tilts will go Saturday, Jan. 5 as the Bobcats tangle with the Lakers at 3:30 CT/4:30 p.m. and the T-Birds take on the Wilderness at 7 p.m. CT/8 p.m. ET.

One other contest will also be featured on Sunday, Jan. 6 as the Bobcats will meet the Wilderness for a second time with this game being played in nearby Hayward, Wis. at 2 p.m. CT/3 p.m. ET.

As a result of Elliot Lake competing in the games vs. the SIJHL their originally scheduled league game on Friday, Jan. 4 vs. Sudbury has been postponed and will be made up on Feb. 1.

Each of the four games in Spooner, Wis., is expected to be available online on a pay-per-view basis through FASTHockey via the SIJHL website at www.sijhlhockey.com.

“This is a tremendous opportunity that allows both the SIJHL and NOJHL to showcase the talent on some of our top teams,” said SIJHL President/Commissioner Ron Whitehead.

“With our two-time defending champion Wilderness and last year’s finalist Lakers going up against the champs of the NOJHL in Sault Ste. Marie, who also won last season’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup in Thunder Bay, and an ever improving Elliot Lake squad, the scouts and fans should be witness to some highly entertaining hockey in Spooner,” added Whitehead.

Both the Wilderness (29-3) and Thunderbirds (19-5-3-3) currently sit in first place in their respective leagues and are highly rated in the Canadian Junior Hockey League at No. 2 and No. 12 overall respectively. The Wilderness are currently riding a 17-game winning streak.

Fort Frances, last season’s SIJHL finalist, are 17-12-1-1 overall and 7-3-1 in their past 11 games. Elliot Lake is in their first season in the NOJHL and sit 7-20-0-1 overall, but has played close to .500 hockey the past month in their first year in the Jr. A league.

“Being part of an event such as this offers tremendous potential and opportunities for all the competing players and both the NOJHL and SIJHL,” offered NOJHL Commissioner Robert Mazzuca.

“Going up against stiff competition in two strong SIJHL clubs will not only provide the Thunderbirds and Bobcats the chance to showcase their talents to the NCAA schools at a high level, but it should also be some pretty good hockey in an inter-league format, much like the Dudley-Hewitt Cup is every year,” added Mazzuca.

This first-ever event between the NOJHL and SIJHL presents an opportunity for both leagues to showcase their players to the many NCAA D- I and D-3 schools that are situated in the Northern Wisconsin/Minnesota region.

Of interest to many is the approval provided by Hockey Canada for the NOJHL teams to compete against SIJHL teams located in the United States. It was not long ago that Hockey Canada denied the NOJHL Soo Thunderbirds the opportunity to keep their rivalry with the Soo Eagles alive with a series of exhibition games.

After leaving the NOJHL for the North American Hockey League, both the Eagles and Thunderbirds asked for permission to play a series of exhibition games that both organizations based significant revenues on. Being cross border rivals enabled the teams to draw from both fan bases on game nights that significantly increased their bottom lines. Hockey Canada denied the Thunderbirds permission to play. Many said at the time that both teams should have anticipated the denial simply based on the Eagles departure from the Hockey Canada league.

Could this limited series be a preview of a merger? Rumors of such have been swirling since the summer. More likely than a merger is an increased series of games in the 2013-2014 season. This series may also be a preview to an NOJHL franchise being placed in Marquette Michigan which would allow an opportunity for rivalry’s to be developed between the two leagues based upon team geography within both leagues.

Either way, this series should be a boon for both leagues and offers enhanced opportunity for all players participating. Hockey Canada and USA Hockey got this one right.

By Joseph Kolodziej

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