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Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
Time to ramp things up
by Randy Pascal

The new year is upon us, which means it’s time for the Sudbury Midget “AA” Lady Wolves to crank it up a notch.

“The first half of the year has been up and down,” acknowledged first year Midget “AA” head coach Jay Duncan. “We’re coming out on the right side of it now, starting to get pucks to the net, making the simple plays, working hard and accomplishing the actual task at hand. We were, at times, over-thinking things and making it too difficult.”

By virtue of a pair of 4-1 victories Saturday over the Vaughan Flames, the local Midget “AA” girls hockey squad have, at least temporarily, overtaken the Toronto Aeros for possession of first place in the LLFHL (Lower Lakes Female Hockey League) Central Division. With a record of 13-3-4, the Lady Wolves are one point clear of the Aeros (13-3-3), with just two regular season games to play.

In fact, the middle of January signals the beginning of crazy period for Duncan and his crew. This coming weekend sees the team travelling to the nation’s capital, participating in the Ottawa Senators Winter Showcase Tournament. Play begins on Friday, the locals mixed in pool play with a grouping that includes the Ontario Hockey Academy, Waterloo Ravens, Ottawa Lady 67’s and Peterborough Ice Kats.

Upon finishing league play on January 21st, the program that has produced a national championship squad and multiple provincial gold medal winners will immerse themselves in a mixture of league playoffs and regional playdowns, needing to battle their way past the North Bay Midget “AA” Ice Boltz in order to secure a spot at the all-Ontario tournament in April.

It’s not that this path has not been followed before by representatives donning the Midget “AA” Lady Wolves jerseys. It’s moreso a case that this is the first time, at this level, for well over half of this roster. Where a typical lineup for this age bracket, locally, might include seven to ten third year midgets, perhaps five or so second years, and a sprinkling of first year athletes in this division, the 2017-2018 Lady Wolves are virtually the mirror image.

“I know, in working with the 2002 girls (first year midgets), that they can play at this level, so I have all the confidence in the world in those kids,” said Duncan, just prior to their second contest versus Vaughan on Saturday. “I’ve been around the 2001’s now enough to know that they can do it too, and you add a couple of the older girls that can lead by example. Our balance doesn’t have to be higher or lower in terms of the age group.”

In fact, the reality is that it has taken precious little time at all for the newcomers to this level to realize the change they see in various aspects of the game, both on and off the ice. “I think we kind of connected as a team, right off the start,” noted 15 year old grade 10 Lo-Ellen Park Secondary student Hannah Smith.

“But after, we got a little too comfortable with ourselves and we’re just getting back to where we should be now. We’re playing well together and playing with more confidence. When we’re playing weaker teams, we definitely go down to their level. We play mediocre, we’re not capitalizing and scoring as much as we should be. We need to look at every team as though they are the best team we play.”

A mainstay typically with “AA” Lady Wolves teams in her second year in each age bracket, over the years, Smith knows that there is an element of wanting to continually prove her value to the team, leaving no doubt as to the fact that she has earned her role, even if at the expense of some older girls.

“I really have to work hard every shift, prove myself every game,” she said. “I’m working on really being aggressive, because I like to skate a lot.” Also making the jump directly from the 2016-2017 Bantam “AA” team is fellow forward Deseray Zazulak, also in grade ten, over at Collège Notre-Dame.

“It’s a lot faster, a lot more aggressive,” she said. “You’ve always got to be moving your feet, always trying to get to the puck.” Nowhere is the emotional level of the game amped up more than when the Lady Wolves do battle with the arch rivals to the east. “North Bay has always been good to play against,” said Zazulak.

“We always have to play them to see who goes to provincials.” Holding a 14 point edge over the sixth place Ice Boltz, the Lady Wolves are trying to remain confident, though not cocky, in looking forward to their pending annual tete a tete. “North Bay is pretty good, but I think we can beat them,” said Smith.

“Every team is different. They are definitely aggressive, sometimes a little dirty, and we have to play that way too, a little bit.” With so much on their plates in the next two to three months, Duncan is pleased that he doesn’t always have to worry about ensuring his team is properly motivated for every single matchup.

“Every time we play North Bay, we’ve got to win,” he said. “That kind of takes care of itself, in terms of motivating our girls. They always rise to the occasion. If we don’t beat them, at some point, it means we’re not going somewhere.”

As for the stretch that lies ahead, Duncan believes his team is ready for the challenge. “The Christmas break was good, a little bit of rest,” he said. “Then to come back and play a lower ranked opponent this weekend, that’s probably good for us, because we’re not ready to go yet. We’ve got a good tournament coming up this weekend, and hopefully, we will engage them in that.”

Beyond Smith and Zazulak, the Midget “AA” Lady Wolves team roster includes Mireille Kingsley, Natania King, Jaiden Duncan, Madison Laberge, Abbey Patterson, Myah Fillion, Crystale Trottier, Makayla Blanchard, Makyala Gratton, Lauren Hancock, Joelle Dubois, Madisyn Papineau, Katie Chomiak, Jenna Miller, Taylor Scott and Kiana Verbiwski.

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