Randy Russon

For The Community Press

They were born two months apart in 1999 in the sprawling southwestern Ontario city of London.
They are life long friends who grew up together in their hometown and played hockey together.
And now they are teammates again, far from home, in the small northeastern Ontario town of Hearst.
Not only that, forwards Jake Desando and Max Griffioen are one and two on the scoring chart for the Hearst Lumberjacks of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
Entering play this week, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Desando leads Hearst in scoring with 20 goals, 28 assists, 48 points in 38 games.
And right behind Desando is the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Griffioen with 19 goals, 26 assists, 45 points in 39 games.
This is Desando’s first season in Hearst and the second for Griffioen. Desando signed with Hearst prior to the start of the 2018-2019 NOJHL season at the urging of his buddy, Griffioen, according to Lumberjacks coach and general manager Marc Lafleur.
“Max took the leap last year and after enjoying his experience with Hearst and noticing the learning, his friend Jake came and joined the Lumberjacks,” Lafleur relayed.
Hearst enters play in the NOJHL this week in fourth place in what is a hotly contested East Division. Through 39 games, the Lumberjacks have 45 points from a record of 20-14-5.
The Lumberjacks have a record of 7-2-1 in their last 10 starts and Lafleur, as the coach and general manager, is full of praise for the leadership role that both Desando and Griffioen have undertaken.
“Both have been stellar leaders to a team that is still young and learning the ways of the NOJHL,” Lafleur said of Desando and Griffioen.
Lafleur is of the notion that both Desando and Griffioen have a lot of hockey ahead of them.
“For sure, there many years of hockey left for those two if they keep committed to learning,” added Lafleur.
We have first-hand information as a followup to last week’s story regarding the bus accident involving the French River Rapids of the NOJHL.
It was a close call and it evoked memories of a tragic team bus accident involving a Canadian junior hockey team from about nine months ago.

Indeed, the owner, general manager and coach of the French River team told Hockey News North that he saw his life flash before his eyes when the team bus recently barrelled off the highway and went down an eight-foot embankment and almost tipped over. 

“All I could think of is that we were going to die,” said Paul Frustaglio in the aftermath of the early morning, January 5 accident that occurred when French River was returning home from a previous night game in Kirkland Lake against the Gold Miners.

Frustaglio added that he truly believes that an act of divine intervention by his late son, Evan, saved all who were on board the bus from a tragic ending similar to the one that befell the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Jr. Hockey League in April of 2018.

Frustaglio said the French River team was about a half hour from its home base of Noelville when the crash happened just after 1:00 a.m. on January 5.

Frustaglio said he and several players have whiplash and headaches but aside from that there were no major injuries reported.

“We’re lucky we ended up in a field,” Frustaglio said. “I don’t know how the bus didn’t tip. Everybody was holding on for dear life. We were just very lucky. There was some sort of intervention, I’m telling you that right now.”

It was about nine years ago that Frustaglio’s aforementioned son, Evan — who was a promising young hockey player in the Greater Toronto Area — fell ill at a tournament in London. Several days later, 13-year old Evan died in his dad’s arms from the H1N1 influenza epidemic that had swept through Ontario.

Fast forward to now, Evan’s younger brother Will plays for their dad in French River and is one of the top scorers on the Rapids. Thus, Will — who was 10-years old when Evan died — was on the bus with his dad at the time of the January 5 crash.

“Evan is the angel who saved us,” said the elder Frustaglio. “The bus was tipping and how it came back, I don’t know. It was a miracle. The snow was about a foot-and-a-half to two feet deep and the bus was like a plow going through the snow and nobody could see outside. All you could see was snow. I got thrown to the ground and there was stuff thrown all over the bus. A few kids banged their heads. I don’t know how the bus didn’t flip.”