SUDBURY – As another week in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s regular season gets underway tonight on two fronts, a look at the overall standings sees a six-team logjam in the battle for first place.
A total of only two points separate those six clubs in the quest for the top spot in the current standings.
The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Sudbury Nickel Barons and Abitibi Eskimos sit with 18 points apiece while the Soo Thunderbirds, Elliot Lake Wildcats and Cochrane Crunch are in hot pursuit, just two points in arrears, with 16.
In terms of winning percentage, based on the number of games played, it is Sault Ste. Marie that is in top spot in that category with a win mark of .800.
Kirkland Lake and Sudbury are next at .750 each followed Elliot Lake at .727, Abitibi at .692 and Cochrane at .667.
According to files from NOJHL Historian David Harrison, only three times in the storied history of the league have three or more teams finished within five or fewer points in the final overall standings.
Back in 2004-05 only five points divided the top three clubs with the North Bay Skyhawks having 68, the Abitibi Eskimos 65 and Northern Michigan Black Bears 63.
Then 35 years ago there were four squads in that five-point range for first led by the Sudbury Cubs with 50, the Nickel Centre Native Sons at 49 followed closely by the Onaping Falls Huskies and Capreol Hawks with 45.
You then have to go all the way back to the 1963-64 campaign where the North Bay Trappers finished in first place with 56 points followed by the Sudbury Wolves at 53 and the Espanola Eagles at 51.
GAME TIME: One contest on tonight’s slate should alter the point totals among the league leaders as Kirkland Lake heads to Sudbury to take on the Nickel Barons in a 7:30 p.m. start at McClelland Arena.
This evening’s other game features the Soo Thunderbirds, winners of six in succession, paying a 7:30 p.m. visit to the Blind River Community Centre to square off against the Beavers.
Weekend play has a trio of 7:30 p.m. tilts Friday with Powassan visiting Kirkland Lake, Cochrane entertaining Abitibi and Elliot Lake welcoming Blind River.
Three more match-ups go Saturday with Mattawa at home to Sault Ste. Marie at 5 p.m. followed by a pair of 7:30 p.m. encounters as the Eskimos and Crunch finish off a home-and-home at Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls and the Beavers on home ice against the Nickel Barons.
Weekly action concludes Sunday with a 2 p.m. matinee as the Blackhawks meet the Thunderbirds for the second time in Mattawa in less than 24 hours.
FASTHockey: Each and every NOJHL regular season and playoff game will be available online, on a pay-per-view basis, via the FASTHockey link on the league website at www.nojhl.com.
Games will also be scored live online throughout the season on the NOJHL website, www.nojhl.com, courtesy of the league’s statistical provider Sport Ngin.
PLAYOFFS: All nine NOJHL clubs will qualify for the postseason.
In the league’s western division the No. 1 seed there will take on the No. 4 team in one divisional semifinal while No. 2 will take on No. 3 in the other.
Meanwhile in the NOJHL east the fourth and fifth place sides meet in a best-of-three qualification series with the winner there meeting the No. 1 seed in the division semifinal.
Like the west, No. 2 squares off with No. 3 in the other divisional semifinal.
From there best-of-seven division finals and league championship series will determine the NOJHL title holder.
DUDLEY-HEWITT CUP: The NOJHL postseason winner will advance to represent the league at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Jr. A championship.
The 2015 DHC will be hosted by the Fort Frances Lakers of the Superior International Junior Hockey League, April 28 through May 2 at Ice for Kids Arena.
Joining the NOJHL winners and host Lakers will be the title holders of the SIJHL, or league finalist should Fort Frances, repeat as SIJHL champions, and the champion of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
RBC CUP: The Dudley-Hewitt Cup champion will then head to Portage la Prairie, Man., May 9-17 to compete in the 2015 RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A event.
Serving as host of the RBC will be the Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
They will be joined by the Dudley-Hewitt winner as well as the recipient of the Fred Page Cup eastern Canadian tournament as well as the winner and finalist of the Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup.
ON TAP: Upcoming NOJHL games.
Cochrane @ Sudbury 7:30 p.m. (McClelland)
Abitibi @ Powassan 7:30 p.m. (Sportsplex)
Mattawa @ Kirkland Lake 7:30 p.m. (Joe Mavrinac)
Soo @ Elliot Lake 7:30 p.m. (Centennial)
Abitibi @ Mattawa 5 p.m. (Mike Rodden)
Elliot Lake @ Powassan 7:30 p.m. (Sportsplex)
Cochrane @ Kirkland Lake 7:30 p.m. (Joe Mavrinac)
Soo @ Blind River 7:30 p.m. (Community Centre)
Sudbury @ Blind River 3 p.m. (Community Centre)
Blind River @ Sudbury 7:30 p.m. (McClelland)
Powassan @ Kirkland Lake 7:30 p.m. (Joe Mavrinac)
Mattawa @ Cochrane 8 p.m. (Tim Horton)
Sudbury @ Elliot Lake 8 p.m. (Centennial)