The Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League is setting up shop in the tireless town of Elliot Lake.
Having spent the previous five seasons in the non-sanctioned, Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League, the Elliot Lake Bobcats will debut in the NOJHL effective the 2012-13 campaign under the direction of owner-general manager-coach Ryan Leonard.
The 32-year old Leonard successfully operated the Elliot Lake franchise for five seasons in the so-called Outlaw League, winning one championship and compiling an eye-popping, overall record of 158-38-15 along the way.
To be sure, Leonard has displayed good business sense in operating a junior hockey franchise.
"Before we granted Ryan an expansion franchise for Elliot Lake, we did a thorough check on him," said NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca. "Not only did he run a successful program on the ice, he operated it in a tidy fashion on the business side."
In moving to the NOJHL as an owner, GM and coach, Leonard returns to the junior league of which he has a prior association.
As a player, Leonard was a high-scoring forward with the Soo Thunderbirds and Abitibi Eskimos. And before setting up shop as an owner in Elliot Lake, Leonard was an assistant coach with the Blind River Beavers for three years.
Leonard tells me he is excited to be back in the NOJHL.
"We have established a good program and a good fan base over five years in Elliot Lake," said Leonard. "Nothing against the league we were in but not being sanctioned by Hockey Canada, the OHF and the NOHA had its drawbacks. Talking to our fans, they are excited to be a part of the NOJHL."
Leonard said the Bobcats have already sold more than 100 season tickets for the 2012-13 season.
The energetic, effervescent Leonard has also been busy putting together a hockey staff that includes familiar associates Chad Vresk, Brad Boyer and Charly Murray.
Vresk is the Bobcats vice president of hockey operations while Boyer and Murray will assist in the scouting department.
Murray, who has scouted for a number of NOJHL teams over a period of 20 years, is excited to be a part of the Elliot Lake organization.
"These young guys (Leonard, Vresk and Boyer) have rekindled an old fire in me," said Murray. "I am very proud to be associated with the Elliot Lake Bobcats. Elliot Lake is as a good junior hockey town."
The Bobcats will be hosting a major tryout camp open to free-agent junior players from Canada and the United States from May 25-27 in Sudbury, Ont. For more information, visit www.elliotlakebobcats.net.
Elliot Lake, a town of just over 11,000 residents, is situated about 20 miles off Highway 17 along Highway 108. It is about 120 miles from Sault Ste. Marie.
Rich in junior hockey history, Elliot Lake has been home to various teams and hundreds of players since 1966.
Chicago native Bruno Bragagnolo, now the coach and general manager of the Soo Eagles of the North American Hockey League, was a goalie for the old Jr. B Elliot Lake Vikings in late 1970s.
And former Ontario Hockey League stars Jeremy Stevenson, Chris Thorburn and Craig Kennedy all played Jr. A hockey in Elliot Lake.
The 28-year old Thorburn now patrols the wing for the Winnipeg Jets of the National Hockey League.