TORONTO – With each of the 122 member teams that compete in the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) all having begun their respective 2023-24 regular seasons, a solid portion of them are expected to be among the upper echelon of clubs across the country throughout the campaign.
With the initial CJHL Top 20 Rankings scheduled to be announced Monday, October 2, here’s an alphabetical look at some of the ‘Teams to Watch’ heading into the initial release of the weekly listings:
BATTLEFORDS NORTH STARS (SJHL): Last season’s national finalists suffered an early defeat after posting a shutout in their home opener, but under 2022-23 CJHL Coach of the Year, Brayden Klimosko, the North Stars will look to shine once more this season.
Rookie netminder Joey Hawco posted a shutout in his SJHL debut as he looks to replace standout netminder Josh Kotai, who is off to compete in the NCAA ranks at Augustana University in South Dakota.
BLIND RIVER BEAVERS (NOJHL): The Beavers are a solid 5-1 to begin play in northern Ontario and have only allowed a NOJHL-least 11 goals-against.
Second-year defenceman Andrey Manov leads Blind River offensively with a dozen points, which ties him for sixth in overall league numbers.
BRAVES DE VALLEYFIELD (LHJAAAQ): After dropping their season opener, Valleyfield has won five straight to move into a tie for first overall in the 13-team LHJAAAQ.
Centre Justin Boisselle shares second overall in league scoring with 13 points and boasts a solid plus-9 rating.
BROOKS BANDITS (AJHL): Having earned each of the past three Canadian Jr. A championship titles, that have been contested, perennial CJHL power Brooks should once again be considered among the national elite.
They sit tied for first overall early on in Alberta, while having allowed the fewest goals-against to date.
CAMPBELLTON TIGERS (MHL): The Tigers hold down top spot in the opening days of the MHL season, despite having their unbeaten start to the campaign ended on Sunday at the hands of the West Kent Steamers.
Forward Kiefer Lyons currently leads all MHL skaters in points with 11, on four goals and seven assists, in four games played.
COLLINGWOOD BLUES (OJHL): Heading into the OJHL Governor’s Showcase this week in Buffalo, N.Y., the defending league champions have picked up where they left off last season.
At 6-1, they sit second overall, points wise, in the 24-team OJHL with ’03 forward Mark McIntosh sitting tied for first in league scoring, one ahead of teammate Jack Rimmer. Meanwhile, netminder Noah Pak is an OJHL-best 5-0.
DAUPHIN KINGS (MJHL): Solid at both ends of the ice to kick off their campaign, the Kings lead the MJHL in goals-scored with nine and their two against tie them for the second-fewest given up in the league.
Returning for another year in Dauphin, goaltender Cole Sheffield is already 2-0 with a stingy 1.00 goals-against average, along with an equally solid .957 save percentage.
DRUMHELLER DRAGONS (AJHL): Boasting 30-plus win seasons in each of their past five full AJHL campaigns, Kevin Hasselberg’s club aims for even better results in 2023-24.
Drumheller has won a league current high three straight and pace the AJHL in goals scored with 29 through their first five outings and presently have plus-13 goal differential to their credit.
EDMUNDSTON BLIZZARD (MHL): Under bench boss Simon Olivier, Edmundston looks to improve on their second-place overall regular season finish in 2022-23.
Goalkeeper Nicholas Sheehan has done his part between the pipes for the Blizzard, sporting a staunch 1.67 goals-against average, and an equally crisp .952 save mark, with one shutout, early on.
GREATER SUDBURY CUBS (NOJHL): The high-flying Cubs have reeled off six consecutive victories to lead the way early on in the NOJHL and have already registered a league-high 42 goals.
Captain Oliver Smith and fellow forward Nolan Newton top all point producers across the 12-team loop with 16 apiece.
HUMBOLDT BRONCOS (SJHL): Scott Barney’s squad have begun their year in Saskatchewan with back-to-back victories, with goaltender Benjamin Motew winning both of them, including posting an opening night shutout.
Rookie forward Tryson Bryson shares the early SJHL scoring lead with teammate Matthew Van Blaircom, and two others.
KAM RIVER FIGHTING WALLEYE (SIJHL): Last season’s SIJHL Bill Salonen Cup title holders will look to win again and make another trip to the Centennial Cup, which goes in Oakville, Ont., in May of 2024.
First-year head coach Jesse Messier aims to improve on the 40 wins the club posted last season en route to the SIJHL crown.
L’EVEREST DE LA CÔTE-DU-SUD (LHJAAAQ): As the lone unbeaten team in the Quebec Jr. A ranks, to date, Simon Labrecque’s squad sits at 5-0 to begin play.
A big part of that early success has been due to the goaltending of first-year stopper Alexandre Lauzier, who is 4-0.
MELFORT MUSTANGS (SJHL): Joining Humboldt as the only two-win teams in Saskatchewan through the opening weekend of play, the Mustangs look build on their early modest success.
Coached by Trevor Blevins, who is also their general manger, Melfort leads the SJHL in goals scored with 10 and has seen 13 players register at least one point through two games.
MILTON MENACE (OJHL): Milton have won four in a row heading into the OJHL Governor’s Showcase and boast a solid goal differential of plus-18.
Goaltender Glen Crandell presently sits in the OJHL Top 10 in both average and save percentage at 2.14 and .931 respectively.
NIVERVILLE NIGHTHAWKS (MJHL): In just their second year in the MJHL under head coach and GM Kelvin Kech, Niverville have begun the campaign at 2-0 as they look to better the 26 victories they had in their inaugural campaign.
’04 defenceman Kaycee Coyle currently leads all MJHL defencemen in points with four, which also puts him in a tie for first among all skaters. Rookie netminder Raiden Legall impressed in his debut, allowing only one goal-against, while making 38 saves.
OKOTOKS OILERS (AJHL): The longest-serving head coach and general manager in franchise history, Tyler Deis consistently has had the Oilers among the top clubs in Alberta.
Okotoks won their first four games of the season before suffering a road setback over the weekend. They currently hold a share of the AJHL lead in points with eight.
OTTAWA JR. A SENATORS (CCHL): A perennial CCHL power, Ottawa has won four consecutive league Bogart Cup titles and are 2-0 to begin the year under new head coach Charles Lavigne.
First-year netminders in ’05 Will Mizenko and ’06 Hayden Duncan both came away victorious in their respective CCHL debuts.
PORTAGE TERRIERS (MJHL): One of the CJHL’s top teams over the years under head coach and GM Blake Spiller, Portage has made more than their share of appearances at the Centennial Cup.
After being crowned regular season winners in 2022-23, the Terriers are in search of their 10th Turnbull Trophy, emblematic of MJHL champions, since 2005.
POWASSAN VOODOOS (NOJHL): Coming off back-to-back shootout wins on the road over the weekend, Peter Goulet’s Powassan side have moved to 4-1-0-1 overall and sit in first place in the NOJHL’s East Division.
Tucker Shields notched the shootout winner in both of those Voodoos’ extra-time triumphs and is a perfect three-for-three in that category, while leading the squad with four markers.
ROCKLAND NATIONALS (CCHL): Rockland has reeled off three straight wins to begin their 2023-24 campaign under bench boss Justin Pereira.
Rookie goaltender Will Seagrave has stood tall early on, going 2-0 with a 1.50 average and a save percentage of .935.
SIOUX LOOKOUT BOMBERS (SIJHL): In just their second season in the SIJHL, Sioux Lookout is making early in roads this season. They swept the Thunder Bay North Stars at home over the weekend to start their campaign 2-0.
’04 forward Owen Riffel shares the early SIJHL-lead in goals with three while rookie goaltenders Matthew Spencer-Dahl and Matthew Ofukany both won their league debuts.
SMITHS FALLS BEARS (CCHL): The Bears look to take the next step after advancing all the way to the CCHL final last season, guided by head coach and GM Pat Malloy.
’05 goalkeeper Edouard Vilandre posted a shutout in his first CCHL start, while up front ’03 forward Matthew Dimaline is just one point off the league scoring lead with seven.
SPRUCE GROVE SAINTS (AJHL): With 225 victories over the course of previous five full seasons, Spruce Grove looks to be among the teams in Alberta looking to push Brooks off their current title-winning perch.
A couple of recent blemishes in their early season results shouldn’t detract them moving forward.
STEINBACH PISTONS (MJHL): The defending Manitoba champions are among four MJHL squads who have started their seasons at 2-0.
Second-year forward Kirk Mullen has already scored four times in two games, to pace all MJHL skaters in goals.
SUMMERSIDE WESTERN CAPITALS (MHL): The only team in the Maritimes yet to lose in regulation early in the year, Billy McGuigan’s squad looks to return to national prominence this season.
Summerside presently sits with a co-MHL-best winning percentage of .750.
TORONTO JR. CANADIENS (OJHL): Toronto sits atop the OJHL points table with 13 on their overall record of 6-1-0-1.
18-year-old forward Luc Malkhassian is tied for fourth in league scoring with 10 points and holds down a share of the OJHL lead in tallies, with six. Then there is netminder Ethan Kowatch, who is third in GAA (1.67) and second in SV% (.953).
TRENTON GOLDEN HAWKS (OJHL): Trenton is the lone unbeaten team in the OJHL so far this season at 5-0 under new coach and GM Derek Smith.
Stalwart Golden Hawks ’03 netminder Benjamin Bonisteel leads all league goaltenders in both average and save mark at 0.99 and .965. He’s also 4-0.
VC DE LAVAL (LHJAAAQ): An early surprise in the LHJAAAQ, has seen Laval register five wins already, after finishing near the bottom of the table in their inaugural campaign last season. They currently hold a share of first place with their 10 points.
Rookie forward Joey Messina has made a solid impression with a dozen points so far, which ties him for fourth in league numbers.
WELLINGTON DUKES (OJHL): A perennial front-runner in the OJHL over the years, Wellington already have four triumphs to their credit and sit second overall in goals scored with 32.
Up front, forwards William Mitchell and Cole Jewitt lead the Dukes offensively and sit among the overall league leaders.