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Thunderbirds set to return to play this week

After a lengthy stretch away, the Soo Thunderbirds will return to game action on Wednesday night
2020-11-07 Soo Thunderbirds stock (1)
Soo Thunderbirds file photo. Brad Coccimiglio/SooToday

The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League is set to return to action this week.

In an announcement made Monday afternoon, the league said it will continue to play in cohorts, though teams will only play against teams from the same public health unit for the time being.

That means that, locally, the Soo Thunderbirds will return to play games against the Blind River Beavers as both teams play in markets that are served by Algoma Public Health.

The Thunderbirds and Beavers, who met for a series of games earlier this season, will return to action on Wednesday night in the first of six scheduled games between the two teams spread over the next two weeks.

This week, the Thunderbirds and Beavers will open their six-game stretch on Wednesday night in a 7 p.m. start at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

The teams will then return to the ice on Friday night in a 7 p.m. start, also at the John Rhodes locally.

The teams will then meet on Sunday afternoon in a 2 p.m. start at the Blind River Community Centre before playing a trio of games next week, including one game in Sault Ste. Marie and a pair of games in Blind River.

Other pairings include the Espanola Express facing the French River Rapids and the Timmins Rock facing the Cochrane Crunch.

The league also announced Monday that the Hearst Lumberjacks and Kirkland Lake Gold Miners will not be returning to the ice this season and will instead return for the 2021-22 NOJHL season.

Prior to the start of the season, the Elliot Lake Wildcats announced that the team was taking a leave of absence due to COVID-19 and will also return next season.

The Powassan Voodoos made a similar announcement in early January.

The NOJHL has also been without the Soo (Mich.) Eagles this season due to the closure of the border between Canada and the United States.

The league is currently exploring options to have the Rayside-Balfour Canadians potentially play against Sudbury-area Under-18 teams for the time being as the Canadians are the lone team without an opponent as the NOJHL returns.

The Canadians will eventually face NOJHL competition in a series of games against either Espanola or French River as all three teams play in the Sudbury & Manitoulin Health District.

Earlier this month, Hockey Canada announced the cancellation of all spring national championships.

Among the affected events was the Jr. A national championship, the Centennial Cup.

Leagues across the country have been affected by cancellations this season.

Last week, the Alberta Junior Hockey League announced that it had been granted approval to return to play in early-March.

The British Columbia Hockey League played games into November, but the league has been sidelined since.

Like the NOJHL, the Central Canada Hockey League, which includes teams in the Ottawa-area, is set to return to play this week.

The Quebec-based Ligue de Hockey Junior AAA du Quebec is still working with health officials in the province to potentially return to the ice. As of Monday, the groups were still working on a return to play.

Earlier this month, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League announced the cancellation of the remainder of its regular season and playoffs.

The league, which had not played games since mid-November, said in a release that it was “unrealistic to continue operating in a state of hope with so much uncertainty and no timeline provided.”

Though they’ve been hit with some schedule changes, the Maritime Hockey League has returned to play this month.

The Ontario Junior Hockey League is still working with government officials to potentially return this season.

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League announced in December that games would be paused until into the new year and the league is continuing to explore options on how to proceed.

The Superior International Junior Hockey League, home to teams in the Thunder Bay, Ont. area, announced in January that all activities would be paused in accordance with the provincial State of Emergency implemented at the time and the league has not issued any further statements since.

Brad Coccimiglio

About the Author: Brad Coccimiglio

A graduate of Loyalist College’s Sports Journalism program, Brad Coccimiglio’s work has appeared in The Hockey News as well as online at in addition to regular freelance work with SooToday before joining the team full time.
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