Randy Russon


Hearst Lumberjacks began this week two games above the .500 mark with a record of 14-12-5.

But the second-year Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League franchise still found itself in fifth place in the tough East Division, just six points ahead of the French River Rapids in the race for the last playoff spot.

On the ice, Hearst have three skaters who have scored in double digits thus far. Max Griffioen leads the goal scoring chart with 16 tallies followed by Jake Desando with 15 and Blaise Arkle with 10.

Between the pipes, goalie Nick Talarico was in net for eight of the 13 Hearst victories to end last week.

Meanwhile, attendance remains excellent for the NOJHL in Hearst.

The Lumberjacks, who finished second on the NOJHL attendance chart in 2017-2018, trailing only the much-bigger market Timmins Rock, are once again second thus far this 2018-2019 season. To date, Hearst is averaging just over 700 fans per game.

A tiny town of about 4,800 that is tucked away in a northeastern Ontario nook a good 340 miles away from the west end of the NOJHL at Sault Ste. Marie, Hearst is a hockey hotbed that is the birth place of Claude Giroux, the 30-year old captain åof the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League.

In fact, Giroux made a big financial contribution to the Lumberjacks that allowed them to purchase the Iroquois Falls Eskis franchise and relocate it to Hearst in time for the start of the 2017-2018 season. Giroux serves as the team ambassador for the Lumberjacks.

The Lumberjacks play out of the Claude Larose Recreation Centre — named after another Hearst hockey hero.

Now 75-years old, Claude Larose was a hard-nosed forward who rose to NHL fame with the Montreal Canadiens. In all, Larose played in more than 1,000 NHL games, playoffs included — and wears multiple Stanley Cup championship rings.

Despite being a French-speaking town with a Francophone population of more than 90 per cent, the Lumberjacks have managed to recruit players from several Canadian provinces outside Ontario as well a number of American states.

Hearst native son Marc Lafleur is the reputable coach and general manager of the Lumberjacks.

Lafleur spent five years in a similar role with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, who he coached to an NOJHL championship in 2014 and a pair of Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada tournament appearances, before he moved back to his hometown to take over as the Hearst hockey boss prior to the start of the 2017-2018 season.

Lafleur also has a multitude of international experience, having served on the coaching staff of Canada East at four World Jr. A Challenge events, including winning a silver medal in 2016. He has also been an assistant coach with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.

To be sure, Lafleur has lofty expectations for the Lumberjacks in their second NOJHL season in Hearst.

“Our expectations are always to compete for the league title,” the 43-year old Lafleur said evenly.