Minor Midget Wolverines takes a different tact
by Gianni Ubriaco
A brand new local AA minor midget team, the SMHA Wolverines, is ready to drop the puck on their inaugural season,
but the management of the team has their sights set on the development of their players instead of just winning
championships and getting players drafted.
“The intention going into the season was never primarily about getting recognized or getting drafted, but rather
creating places for 15-year-olds to play competitive hockey and to develop them,” says the team’s manager Albert
Corradini. “Obviously, we’re entering into the season hoping that we’re very successful and the coaching staff is
putting a lot of time, money, and effort into trying to develop this into a very successful franchise, but we’re not going
to necessarily measure our success on wins and losses.”
If the team does produce some kids who are recognized, scouted and drafted, that would be a bonus for the team, as would
playoff success. However, Corradini explains that the whole idea behind the team was to get a solid coaching staff in place
that was committed to helping local 15-year-old players evolve into better hockey players who can one day go on
to competing in AA major midget programs and AAA midget programs.
He started looking for a coach back in April and was fortunate enough to get a commitment from well-respected hockey man
Owen Gibbons to guide the team. Gibbons is an experienced AAA coach who also carries the responsibility of scouting
on behalf of the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. Gibbons will lead a group of seventeen 15-year-olds who are all from the
“One of the things we tried to do creating this team and one of our objectives was to try and sign just Sudbury kids,”
says the manager. “Fundamentally, it was a basic coaching philosophy and a meeting of the minds that the coaches had. We
wanted this to be a local team.”
When the team first hosted try-outs in early September, they had kids interested in playing for the team from as far
away as Timmins, Mattawa, North Bay, Manitoulin Island, and Blind River. But management decided to stick to their goal of
creating a local minor midget team. They ended up turning away dozens of young ahtletes from all over the north in
selecting their current roster.
All but two of the kids on the team have played in the SMHA in the past. There are also six players from last year’s
Copper Cliff Redmen major bantam team along with five players from last year’s SMHA major bantam team. The minor
midget team will be competing in the Nickel District League in the midget division along with 10 other teams.
Competing against 15, 16, and 17-year-old players, Corradini, with five years under his belt as a member of the
Sudbury Minor Hockey Association Board of Directors, admits the team will probably have a tough time competing against the
older, more experienced players who will be looking to teach the younger kids a lesson.
“We don’t have a clue how successful we’re going to be,” he says. “It’s going to be interesting to see whether or not
we’re going to be able to compete. I think the guys are going to have a pretty steep learning curve and I think there’s
probably going to be some growing pains, but Owen and the coaching staff are fairly confident that they can mold these guys
into a pretty competitive team of 15-year-olds.”
Overall, Corradini indicates that fans can expect a very good skating team that is very solid in net, but also admits
there are still a lot of areas for improvement. “We brought together 17 young men from five or six different teams, so we
have to improve on our chemistry,” he explains. “We have to improve on our passing and we probably have some weaknesses in
moving the puck real well. Owen and the staff are working on that right now.”
Defensively, he believes there will be improvement over the course of the season. The team has recently finished playing
their fourth and final exhibition game and faced Valley East in their first game on October 3rd, their first of 28 league
games. They will be short-handed to start the season though, dressing just 11 players as the team deals with a couple of
injuries and suspensions carrying over from last year.
At this early point in the season and with a lot of local interest and pressure that goes along with that, Corradini
indicates that the staff does not want the kids to feel like it is going to be a make-or-break season in the first month.
Instead, he says the staff is trying to keep their focus on the ice and feels the players will get better over the course
of the next several months.
“We’re really trying to manage expectations right now with the guys,” he says. “We’re trying to keep them level-headed.
Let’s focus on the task at hand and the task at hand is learning about hockey.” In addition to the league games, the team
will also be competing in six tournaments, including two local midget events. The team opens tournament play taking part in
the Sudbury 80's tournament from Oct. 13th to 15th.
The four out of town tournaments will see the Wolverines competing only against other minor midget teams. The first one
will take place in Ottawa, followed by Brantford in November, Hamilton in early December and closing the season with a
trip to Barrie in the new year.
The team will be the only local minor midget team. Corradini points out that he and the staff had heard and were
expecting as many as three other teams, including one from the Valley, Nickel Centre, and Copper Cliff, but it
wasn’t meant to be. Copper Cliff had iced a team last year, but it folded prior to this season. Had there been three
additional local minor midget teams, there would have been 51 additional spots available for 15-year-olds
to play and Corradini feels minor hockey in the community would have benefited.
“I think that’s regrettable,” he says. “I really think if you create more places for 15-year-olds to play, you keep them
in competitive hockey, and it improves their chances of remaining and playing AA hockey.” Looking to the future, he thinks
no matter what happens this year, there will still be at least one local minor hockey team next year, although he has no
idea what it will look like or who will be part of that team since this year’s players will no longer be eligible to play.
As for the chances of eventually having a local minor midget AAA system, that remains to be seen.
“I don’t know weather or not we can aspire to have a minor midget AAA system in this city,” he says. “I can’t really say if
they’re will be or not.”