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NEWS, VIEWS AND DUES FROM 2020-2021 NOJHL SEASON

As a writer who writes up more than one team in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, here are a number of notations as we move on from the 2020-2021 abbreviation of a season to what we can have faith in, at what could lie ahead at some point. • Graduating goalie David Bowen, who proved to be good enough to play in both the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League, has committed to tend twine for the Laurentian Voyageurs of Ontario University Athletics effective the 2021-2022 season. Bowen is coming off multiple seasons of eye-popping play with the NOJHL’s Rayside Balfour Canadians. And by committing to play for Laurentian next season, Bowen will remain in his de facto hometown of Sudbury to stop pucks. To be sure, Bowen more than paid his dues in the NOJHL with Rayside Balfour. And, we will opine, Bowen never really got enough of an extended look from Sudbury general manager Rob Papineau to stick in the OHL with the Wolves. After all, Bowen posted a rousing winning record of 4-1-0 with a save percentage in the .940 range over his short stints with the Wolves. At any rate, Sudbury, by the way, is where Bowen’s dad, Joe Bowen, got his play-by-play start as the voice of the OHL Wolves on radio station CKSO. The elder Bowen, as most know, went to on gain legendary status as the play-by-play man for the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. • Just by watching it play so many times on Hockey TV, the Timmins Rock stood out as the epitome of a complete all around team over 22 games of the on and off NOJHL season. While the Rock boasted graduating stars in forward Derek Seguin and goalie Tyler Masternak there was also the play of point per game, rookie forward Harry Clark, who caught many eyes of those tuning in. Clark, a local product who was well prepared for the NOJHL by playing for highly committed coach Brandon Perry of the Timmins Majors of the Great North Under Hockey League the season prior, is a 2003-birth-year youngster who stands to have many more words written about him in seasons ahead. • The 2020-2021 edition of the Soo Thunderbirds posted a second best (behind Timmins, which had an 18-4-0 record)) winning percentage mark of 13-6-2 through an abbreviated NOJHL season which saw the Soo play the Blind River Beavers in 17 of its 21 games and the Espanola Express in the other four. Coached by Denny Lambert with assistance from Jeremy Stevenson, Gary Roach, Mickey Sartoretto and Aidan Wright and managed by Trev Zachary, the Thunderbirds also honoured another franchise tradition under current owner Darren Smyl by going with a lineup laden with local talent. Indeed, 14 of the 23 players who finished the season on the Thunderbirds roster are either from Sault Ste. Marie or played their minor hockey in the Sault. Including much of the local talent led by scoring leader Cooper Smyl, the Thunderbirds can return 16 of the 23 players from the 2020-2021 roster in 2021-2022. Besides Smyl, other locals who saw regular duty for the Thunderbirds this season included graduating forwards Caleb Wood, Avery Rebek, Parker Morgan and Noah Boman and eligible returnees Kurtis Rogers, Brock Santa Maria, Michael Chaffay, Ty Zachary, Tyson Doucette, Ethan Novello, Jacob Doucette, Kaden Dundas and Connor Toms. Of note, Smyl, as a 2002-birth-year forward, is already drawing interest from Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association schools despite having two full seasons of junior eligibility remaining. The schools in question are of Ivy League status where excellent academic grades are mandatory. As for Toms, a 2004-birth-year defenceman, he has a looming future with the Soo Greyhounds as a 2020, third round, OHL priority selections draft pick. • The reputable resolve shown by coach-general manager Kyle Brick of the small market Blind River Beavers was very evident over the course of the COVID-19 affected season. The Beavers ended up with a 9-11-1 record that included a 7-9-1 mark over 17 games with the Soo and a 2-2-0 showing over four other outings against the Rayside Balfour Canadians. Blind River persevered through a number of injuries and suspensions to more than hold its own against a deeper Soo squad and Brick continued to establish himself as a top shelf coach and first rate individual in the manner in which he and his players represented the Beavers and the NOJHL. Among the many Beavers who had memorable moments on the ice — and who can return next season — are goalie Gavin Disano, defencemen Mason Chitaroni, Samuel Davies and Ethan Pegg, and forwards Nick Jameus, Justin Mauro, Blake McNally and Devin Mauro. Of note, Disano, Chitaroni, Jameus and the Mauro brothers are all Sault Ste. Marie products while McNally is a local Blind River lad. And Chitaroni and the Mauro boys are both OHL draft picks who have Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association eligibility. • Coached by hard driven, hard driving, first-year bench boss Brent Hughes, the fresh Espanola Express not only put together an above .500 record of 5-4-3 from eight games against the French River Rapids and four versus the Soo, but the Express did so as the youngest team — by far — in the NOJHL with not a single 2000-birth-year skater on its roster. What is also notable is that Espanola had a number of young, high-end OHL draft picks on its roster who really stood out this season. And the majority of them, led by forwards Cameron Walker (Kingston Frontenacs), Bradley Brunet (Niagara Ice Dogs), Devon Savignac (North Bay Battalion) and Luke Bibby (Owen Sound Attack) have thus far retained their Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association eligibility — and could very well return to Espanola next season. • A duo of Sault Ste. Marie boys with 2001 birth dates, who have been playing together since their minor hockey house league days, became teammates again in Espanola. Not only that, hard working forward Cole Delarosbil and dogged defenseman Jordan Ritchie became valued members of the Express. Both can return to Espanola next season. These are two kids who fall under the description of true team players. • The summer ahead holds out hockey hope for a number of NOJHL players who could find themselves playing for showcase tournament teams coached by Kirkland Lake bench boss Kyle Smart and aforementioned Espanola head master Brent Hughes. What remains to be seen is if an area summer tournament team representing say, players from Sault Ste. Marie and Blind River, will be put together. Given the shortened season and how it affected so many, a summer of on ice games makes so much sense in so many ways as long as it is safe and healthy for all concerned.

Randy Russon 4 days ago Column
Randy Russon column pic
Column

Life in the U.S. – glad to live in Sault, Ontario, Canada

Two stories, one aired and one published, from the United States really caught my attention last week. One, a rehash on Michael Smerconish’s show on CNN with the individual involved, concerned a black man who had spent 26 years in prison for shooting a woman in the face in 1990 when he was 13, 18 of those years being served in solitary confinement. The other was a Washington Post story out of Atlanta, GA, which said that records show that undercover officers sometimes engage in sexual contact with spa workers during stings in which they plan to arrest the workers, a move trafficking experts say dehumanizes the women and has spurred calls to set limits on police In the first story the teen at the time of the shooting, Ian Manuel, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, even though the woman, Debbie Baigrie, lived. I thought the life sentence with no parole excessive in itself but it was the 18 years in solitary that really caught me. How does anyone survive that? It was to answer that question that Smerconish had Manuel on his program. Manuel said it was through extensive use of his imagination, thinking of getting out of prison and what he would do with his life. He was in a small windowless cell. My imagination wouldn’t help me survive a week. After that time I would be insane. At the beginning of his sentence, prison officials placed Manuel in isolation because of his age and size, according to The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama nonprofit whose attorneys have been involved in the case since 2006. But being alone over endless days, he repeatedly acted out during what interaction he had with corrections officers, resulting in his separation from the general prison population for 18 years, mental cruelty in the extreme. Manuel was released from prison in 2016 mainly because in 2010 the Supreme Court threw out life sentences for juveniles and the victim, Debbie Baigrie, began advocating for Manuel’s early release, arguing he had served sufficient time Baigrie’s involvement was the silver lining in the piece. Manuel had phoned her collect at Christmas after a couple of years in prison to apologize and then began writing her letters, which she thought had to be written by someone else since they were so articulate. “As soon as she accepted the call I said, ‘Miss Baigrie, this is Ian. I’m just calling to tell you I’m sorry for shooting you, and I wish you and your family a merry Christmas,'” he said. “That’s what I blurted out. What do you say to somebody you shot, you know?” Baigrie said she was shaken by the call since it was so fresh at the time. But she had found it heartbreaking when the judge sentenced Manuel to life in an adult prison and after the call she corresponded with Manuel, becoming a friend and advocate. I contrast the treatment Manuel received to that of the police involved in the stings in Atlanta, who as far as I am concerned are guilty of actually accepting sexual favours to get the goods on the women they are there to arrest. They call it a sting. I call it entrapment. The Washington Post said police descended on three massage businesses along a stretch of Georgia highway, part of what they described was a broader campaign against the illicit sex industry in Coweta County. An investigator said the goal had been to root out “human trafficking and child exploitation.” But The Post said records the paper obtained detailing the raids showed that while authorities said they found no evidence of human trafficking at the three spas, undercover officers engaged in sex acts with some of their workers, then arrested them. In one encounter, a sheriff’s deputy repeatedly grabbed a woman while she masturbated him, the documents say, while another undercover officer paid $200 and received oral sex. Police charged eight female spa workers with prostitution, according to local media outlets, which posted photos of their mug shots on the evening news, a media move I see as lowering themselves to the level of the police in this instance. Apparently while such tactics by police are generally permitted by law, policymakers are beginning to propose new limits on physical contact by police, which they say serves to dehumanize — and potentially traumatize — the very women the raids are purportedly meant to help. The spa owners and operators targeted by law enforcement, experts said, often go unpunished. As I ponder these two cases, I must say I am glad I am a Canadian. Keeping a person in solitary confinement for 18 years is an atrocity. Participating in a sex act and then arresting the other person in the act should not “be generally permitted by law.” Actually, these two cases are just a small part of what it going on in the United States that I abhor. Although President Joe Biden is bringing some cohesion to the fight against the COVID virus, many governors are working directly against him, shedding mask mandates. As well, nearly all the Republican governors are attempting to pass legislation that would make it harder for some members of society, mainly black, to work. There is the George Floyd incident, in which he was killed by a police officer who is now on trial for murder and there are many more. We may complain about our politicians and many things that happen in our country but I can’t think of a better place to be. And with the control of the COVID virus that has been done so well in our area as of this writing, I am especially happy that I live in Sault Ste. Marie. 

DOUG MILLROY 4 days ago Column
Doug Millroy
Local Sports

Blind River Beavers get set in net as Sault boy Gavin Disano answers call

He came through when called upon and earned the No. 1 job. And along the way, Gavin Disano withstood baptism by fire as a young rookie goalie with the Blind River Beavers of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Disano, who hails from Sault Ste. Marie, faced a barrage of shots in becoming a workhorse between the pipes for Blind River over the course of the abbreviated, recently completed, 2020-2021 NOJHL season. Signed by the Beavers prior to the start of the 2020-2021 NOJHL season after a year with the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, the 17-year old Disano was originally brought into Blind River this season to be the backup to 19-year-old veteran Wyatt Courchaine. But Disano eventually supplanted Courchaine as the No. 1 goalie in Blind River and saw the bulk of the action throughout the 2021 portion of the COVID-19 affected season as the Beavers faced off against the Soo Thunderbirds in cohort competition. Disano ended up with a 6-4-1 record while Courchaine had a 3-7-0 mark for Blind River, which finished the season with a 9-11-1 showing in 21 games — 17 of which were played against the Soo and the other four versus the Rayside Balfour Canadians. Blind River had a 7-9-1 record in its 17 games against the Soo and posted a 2-2-0 mark in the four matches with Rayside Balfour. As for Disano, his impressive 6-4-1 record, .891 save percentage and goals against average of 4.53 do not tell the whole story of what the young goalie faced in the Beavers net. That is, in 689 minutes of action, Disano faced a whopping 478 shots. Which tallies up to a per game average of almost 42 shots per 60 minutes. Plus, Blind River played the last seven games of the season with just two regular defenceman due to injuries and suspensions. Kyle Brick, who just completed his fifth season as the coach and hockey boss of the Beavers, came away very impressed with the play of Disano through the on and off and on again NOJHL campaign. “There are a lot of qualities that Gavin has that really stand out,” Brick told Sault This Week. “His preparation, approach and focus are off the charts … and he positions himself extremely well. “What also stands out about Gavin is that when he lets in a goal that he would like to have back, he doesn’t dwell on it or lose his concentration. “We initially brought Gavin in to be the goalie of the future for the Blind River Beavers but let’s just say that right now, he is way, way ahead of schedule,” Brick offered. “He took over as our starter and he surpassed all expectations with the way he played and handled himself very well in all of those games against a skilled, veteran Soo Thunderbirds team.” Disano, meanwhile, emerged from his first NOJHL season with a really good feeling. “It was a great experience getting to play with a great group of players,” the personable youngster told Sault This Week. “Blind River is an unbelievable place to play with great fans who really support us. I loved every minute of living in Blind River and playing for the Beavers.” Asked if he planned on returning to Blind River for the 2021-2022 season, Disano did not hesitate in responding. “Absolutely, I plan on going back. The whole experience of playing there was definitely amazing,” he noted. After starting out as the backup goalie this season and expecting to remain in that role behind the older, more experienced Courchaine, Disano said he welcomed the challenge of competing for the starting job and ending the season as the No. 1 guy in the Blind River net. “The more I got to play, I wasn’t as nervous as when I started out,” Disano relayed. “I helped us win some games and got on a roll. And playing against my hometown team (the Thunderbirds) was great. We had a lot of good battles with the Thunderbirds and we did OK against them.” Disano said being down to two regular defencemen over the latter stages of the season “was definitely tough. We had to play without guys like Mason (Chitaroni) and that was not easy. But some of our forwards dropped back and played ‘D’ for us and they helped a lot.” On another note, Disano’s dad, Jamie Disano, is well known as a goalie instructor who operates his own business and tutors a number of local and area netminders. The elder Disano also happens to be goalie coach/assistant coach for Blind River. “Before the season began, my dad told me that he wasn’t going to treat me any different than any other player … and that worked out well. The way we saw it, when it comes to games and practices, he is not my dad and I am not his son. I am one of the players and he is my goalie coach,” young Disano summed up.

4 days ago Local Sports
Blind River Beavers goalie Gavin Disano looks up ice after thwarting a scoring opportunity by the Soo Thunderbirds in recent Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League action at John Rhodes Community Center in Sault Ste. Marie. BOB DAVIES/SAULT THIS WEEK

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