Rayside-Balfour Canadiens back in NOJHL

In the final season of the Rayside-Balfour Canadiens’ existence back in 1994-95, Mike Mooney was head coach, his brother played on the team and their father was the owner.

Now, 20 years later, Mooney is the owner of the Canadiens. That’s right, Rayside-Balfour will be home to an NOJHL franchise again, as the Canadiens have been resurrected.

In a Friday release, the league announced its board of directors had unanimously approved the relocation and name change of the Sudbury Nickel Barons to Rayside-Balfour in time for the 2015-16 season. The club will be named the Canadiens.

Pending City of Greater Sudbury approval, the Canadiens expect to play out of Chelmsford Arena.

If the team name sounds familiar, it should. The Rayside-Balfour Canadiens competed in the NOJHL from 1978-79 through 1994-95. They then changed their name to the Sabrecats and were a powerhouse in the league. They won seven consecutive league titles, three Dudley Hewitt Cups and a silver medal at the 2000 RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A Championship in Fort McMurray, Alta.

“It really was a move we wanted to make as a team,” Mooney said. “Mostly, we weren’t getting the fan and community support we wanted in Copper Cliff. We weren’t getting the fan support we were hoping to get from Copper Cliff or City or Sudbury. Rayside-Balfour is more of a community that stands alone, away from City of Greater Sudbury. (In) Copper Cliff, game nights were Wednesday, and the fans we were getting were friends or family of the team. If we weren’t a team built of local kids, the fan support would have been worse.”

The Barons’ move to Rayside-Balfour, and their rebranding, was made possible because of the Nickel City Sons AAA major midget team taking a one-year leave from the Great North Midget League, thus allowing the Canadians to take the Sons’ former ice time. The Sons’ one-year absence from the GNML was confirmed by former Sons head coach Joel Whissel, who also added he’ll be joining the Canadiens’ coaching staff.

Mooney said the Canadiens are hoping to play their home games on Saturdays, with some home games maybe contested on Sunday.

Mooney bought the Sudbury Cubs back in June of 2012 from Bill Scott, a businessman from southern Ontario. Mooney quickly changed the team name to the Nickel Barons. The team remained playing out of McClelland Arena in Copper Cliff, but a lack of attendance to games has been hurting the team for years.

“(Changing) the name of the Cubs was a necessity because there was ill will towards that last ownership,” Mooney said. “It was rebranding, moving away from that. Moving to Rayside-Balfour, the rebranding was necessary. It’s a Francophone community, and the name has nostalgia. It was only fair to the community (that the team be) called Rayside-Balfour.”

Besides the Mooney family ties to the first Rayside-Balfour Canadiens team, including Mooney’s son, Ryan, who is now a player for the Canadiens, current general manager Keane Cronin once played for the team, as did head coach Jason Young.  

“The NOJHL and Rayside-Balfour has a storied past and history, and as a league we could not be more excited to see its return,” NOJHL Commissioner Robert Mazzuca said.

Further news on the Rayside-Balfour Canadiens, including seasons ticket, merchandise and website announcements will be made in the coming weeks.

Twitter: @keith_dempsey