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Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017
Top two in the Great North League still neck and neck
2017-11-18
by Randy Pascal

The top two teams are not about to give an inch as the Northern Ontario midget AAA crew tackle the second half of the 2017-2018 regular season schedule in the latest edition of Peter Michelutti's End of the Roll GNML Weekly Report.

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Handed their first loss of the season in mid-October (3-0 to the North Bay Trappers), the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves have bounced back with several solid performances, both in league and tournament play.

The Wolves latest winning streak reached four games on Friday as the locals blanked the New Liskeard Cubs 4-0 on the road. Tommy Vlahos paced the attack with a pair of goals, with Carson McMillan and Joe Mazur adding one each.

Deric Rivet picked up his first shutout of the year between the pipes for Sudbury, while long-time Nickel City product Jake McGuire also enjoyed a stellar game in net for the Cubs.

Last weekend, the Nickel Caps put up an eight spot on back to back nights against the Sault Major Midget Greyhounds, defeating the visitors 8-3 and 8-1. A very balanced attack would see Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis and Parker Savard score three goals each, while McMillan, Mazur and Joel Mongeon chipped in with a pair.

The stiffest test would come on Sunday afternoon, as Sudbury outlasted the Kapuskasing Flyers 5-3, building up a 4-1 lead after forty minutes of play. Michael Laliberté (2), Mazur (2) and Patrick Musico tackled the offense for the Wolves, with Gabriel John-George (2) and Sylvain Gravel countering for Kap.

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Earlier this month, the Nickel Capital Wolves advanced to the championship final of the Big Nickel Hockey Tournament, edged out 1-0 by the Mississauga Rebels. All in all, a 15-1 regular season record combined with some very good showings at events in Sudbury and Minnesota has the Telus Cup host team feeling pretty good about themselves.

"The intensity is picking up," said second year blueliner Joel Mongeon, one of a handful of returnees to the team. "Our team is battling much harder for loose pucks. In practices, we're competing harder one on one. The team just has a little different dynamic this year."

If there was any concern the Wolves would sleep-walk their way into a national championship berth in April, that has been put to rest through the opening two months of hockey for the lads.

"The coaching staff, since day one, is making us work for it," noted Mongeon. "I think it's just focus right now. We can't take any team lightly. We have to go into every game like it's a must-win situation. In the OHF's and Telus Cup, there's not going to be any easy games."

While the return of Mongeon certainly helped bolster the Sudbury back-end, so too did the decision of Patrick Musico to forego a second year of NOJHL competition in favour of helping the Nickel Capital Wolves in their quest for a national title.

No surprise that a full season, with plenty of ice-time, as a member of the French River Rapids in 2016-2017 is paying dividends for the physica; blueliner this year. "In junior, there were a lot of older and stronger guys," said Musico. "I always had to have my head on a swivel, watching out for all of those big guys."

"Now, I find I have a little more time with the puck. I'm better at controlling it." In the likes of Dokis-Dupuis, Mongeon, Tyler Maki and Hunter Chiblow, Musico finds himself reunited with former teammates from their "AAA" days in minor hockey.

That said, he has pleasantly surprised with some of the newer, less familiar faces with whom he now shares a dressing room. "I think we're pretty dangerous, we've got a really good group of guys," said Musico.

"There's a lot of skill here, especally with the "01's". I didn't know exactly what to expect, but being here now for a month or so, there's a lot of talent here."

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As for the Sudbury coaching staff, the mantra has remained unchanged since training camp opened in late August. "We just need to keep getting better every day, building the confidence of the kids, putting them in situations where they might be a little bit uncomfortable," stated assistant coach Brian Dickinson, following the loss in the Big Nickel final.

"Those are the things that are going to replicate if we get to the Ottawa Regionals and into the Telus Cup. Situations like this will help us become that much more comfortable."

Knowing the season would extend from August through until April, the Nickel Capital Wolves team management set out to add some variety, including with some of their choices of tournament destinations this year.

But keeping things fresh goes well beyond that, according to Dickinson. "We're trying to do different things to keep them mentally sharp," he said. "They're doing yoga, for instance. It's a very, very long season, so we need to create other avenues for them."

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As for the North Bay Major Midgets, the wins have been plentiful, even if not quite as impressive as the Nickel Caps. Following their big win over the Wolves on October 17th, the elder Trappers have won eight of their last ten games.

Three of the victories against the Soo Major Midgets have been by just one goal (the other was an 11-2 shellacking), with the Trappers squeezing in a 3-2 upset loss at the hands of the Soo Minor Midget Thunderbirds.

Coach Guy Blanchard and company looked better in blanking New Liskeard 5-0 this past Wednesday, as Ethan Allair (2), Ian Denomme, Hunter Foreshew and Jacob Peterson-Galema all scored in support of the clean slate posted by netminder Joel Rainville.

On Friday, North Bay doubled the Timmins Majors 6-3, thanks in part to two goal performances from both Kobe Seguin and Nick Wojick. Matt Hardwick and Zach Lefebvre added the remaining goals for the winners, with Riley Brousseau, Kobe Barrette and Shane Benoit replying in a losing cause.

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The Minor Midgets representing Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie will go toe to toe in a pair of games slated for November 18th (8:15 p.m. at Countryside #2) and November 19th (3:00 p.m. at Countryside #1).

The Wolves swept a pair of games in the Sault in late September, though scores of 5-3 and 5-3 would suggest that fans could be in for some highly entertaining hockey this weekend.

Leading the way offensively for Sudbury are Dario Beljo with 11 points, and Giordano Biondi, Gavin Brown and Hunter Brazier, all with seven, while Justin Mauro (12), Brock Santa Maria (9) and Cooper Smyl (7) are among the players to watch for the T-Birds.

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