A balanced schedule, elimination of the shootout, the departure of Soo Eagles to the North American Hockey League and the arrival of Elliot Lake Bobcats from the Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League. The Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League will begin 2012-13 regular season play on September 5 following a summer of change that also resulted in new ownership, new managers and new coaches.
With but a week left in July and August waiting on deck, the NOJHL and its seven teams have sights set on a season that begins in advance of other junior leagues. Let's check in with the seven NOJHL teams and update and replay the off-season of change.
Gone by way of lengthy, league-imposed suspension are head coach Preston Mizzi and top assistant Jamie Henderson as the reigning NOJHL and Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada champions start fresh with the low-key Warren Lavoy calling the shots behind the bench.
Lavoy, a longtime NOJHL assistant with three teams, gets his first head coaching gig minus an all-star cast of graduates including American-born goalie John Kleinhans and former Ontario Hockey League, major junior forward Micky Sartoretto.
Holdover general manager Kevin Cain has tapped another American-born goalie, Steve Dombrosky, to take over the starter's role from Kleinhans in what some NOJHL insiders see as a rebuilding season for the Thunderbirds.
NORTH BAY TRAPPERS
There's a new junior hockey boss in North Bay as the highly-intelligent, extremely-motivated Tim Clayden comes to town after several seasons of success in the higher-profile, Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
Clayden will clearly be the man in charge of the Trappers as chairman of the board and director of hockey operations.
As shrewd a businessman as he is a hockey executive, Clayden gives the Trappers the type of power-broker influence that the franchise has lacked since the glory days of seven-eight years ago when the team was called the Skyhawks and winning championships with regularity.
North Bay and the NOJHL will play host to the three-league, 2013 Dudley Hewitt Cup playdowns.
SUDBURY NICKEL BARONS
Formerly the Northern Wolves, Jr. Wolves and Cubs, Sudbury's NOJHL squad is now called the Nickel Barons.
Mike Mooney Jr., a former NOJHL player himself, is the new owner and he has brought in trusted hands Oscar Clouthier and Dave Clancy to run the hockey department for the Nickel Barons, who will continue to play out of McClelland Arena in Copper Cliff.
Clouthier will be the GM and Clancy the head coach. Both not only have prior NOJHL associations with Sudbury teams but have worked in scouting for Sudbury Wolves of the OHL.
The Nickel Barons have lost a number of players to graduation including 70-goal scorer Jordan Carroll, who played two OHL seasons with Soo Greyhounds.
BLIND RIVER BEAVERS
After winning only eight games last season, the NOJHL's smallest-market franchise has distanced itself from ertswhile GM Jim Yardanoff and former coach Jim Capy.
Rusty Joncas, an assistant coach with the Beavers last season, moves into the GM's office and former British Hockey League goal-scoring sensation Doug McEwen is the new headmaster.
David (Suitcase) McCaig, fresh from a four-year NOJHL career in which he served three separate stints in Blind River while also suiting up for Soo Thunderbirds and Soo Eagles, is now with the Beavers as an assistant coach to McEwen.
On ice, the Beavers can return a number of up-and-coming players from last season's team including 1995 birth date forward Tyler Brown, an OHL draft pick of Soo Greyhounds.
ELLIOT LAKE BOBCATS
After five years in the non-sanctioned, Greater Metro Jr. Hockey League, owner-general manger-coach Ryan Leonard has brought his successful Elliot Lake franchise into the NOJHL.
The 32-year old Leonard, who as a player skated in the NOJHL for Soo Thunderbirds and Abitibi Eskimos, already has the majority of his roster signed for the upcoming season.
Included in Leonard's recruits are several American-born skaters.
KIRKLAND LAKE GOLD MINERS
New to the second-year Kirkland Lake entry is coach-general manager Marc Lafleur, a former top assistant in the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.
Community ownership resisted an off-season offer to purchase the franchise which would have resulted in a move from Iroquois Falls to nearby Timmins.
Paul Gagne -- who as a player, was a first-round pick into both the OHL and the National Hockey League -- will return for a 12th season as coach and general manager of the Eskimos, considered by many to be a model NOJHL franchise.
All seven NOJHL squads will play a 48-game regular season, with teams playing one another eight times apiece.
All seven teams will make the playoffs with the first-place finisher gaining an opening-round bye.
Gone is the shootout, to be replaced by a four-on-four, five-minute overtime. If the game is still tied after the first OT, a three-on-three, five-minute period will ensue. If the game is still tied, it will remain as such.