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Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
Nickel City off to Newmarket for International Silver Stick
by Randy Pascal

With his team winning the Regional Silver Stick Tournament a second straight time, coach Jason Young was not about to deny the Nickel City Jr Sons the final step of this journey again this year.

Back in December of 2016, the Novice "AA" Jr Sons trimmed the Soo Peewees Selects Novices 1-0 in their divisional gold medal affair in Sudbury. But with the International Silver Stick playdowns, for this grouping, scheduled for Port Huron (Michigan), the locals decided to pass.

A lack of confirmed competition - only four teams had indicated their interest in attending - as well as the travel distance involved and the uncertainty of the U.S. political climate twelve months ago prompted team parents to take a rain check for a future trip.

Thankfully, that opportunity would come in their very next crack at the tournament, as the grouping of 2008-born talent would ride another 1-0 championship encounter victory, this time over the Copper Cliff Redmen, earning a berth at the competition that kicks off Thursday in Newmarket.

A second period goal from Grady Jalbert proved to be the difference, with goaltender Kalia Pharand recording the shutout, though not everyone enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate the key tally.

"I remember that I missed Grady's goal because I had just come off when we scored," noted Martin Brassard, a fourth grade student at Foyer Jeunesse, when asked about the big game. "I wasn't too happy."

Thankfully, his teammate was on hand at practice last week, helping provide all of the critical details. "I got the puck off their defenceman and their other guy took a line change, so I deked that guy," recalled Jalbert.

"Their "D" were making a line change and came out and got me, but I went this way and shot it hard. It deflected off the goalie's blocker and went in." Clear as mud. Either way, at that point in the contest, there remained plenty of work to be done, including holding off the hard-charging Redmen in the game's dying moments.

"Coach Jason said I don't care if you dump it, you just get the puck out," noted Brassard. "We can take icings all day." With their place in the eight team bracket now solidified - Nickel City joins the Halton Hills Thunder, Mississauga Jets and TNT Tornados in round robin play - the Jr Sons have spent countless hours moving the needle forward.

"In our practices, we've been working on receiving the pass while moving," said Brassard. "We have a good sense of the game, but we need to get those passes and get those chances."

For fellow forward Karson Gouchie, everything begins almost 200 feet away, as the Sons transition from defense to offense. "When the other team has the puck in the corner, I have to be in the house," noted the nine year old student at St Charles in Chelmsford, alluding to his role in providing weak side defensive support.

"When my defence get the puck and they are wrapping around the net, then I go to the hash marks and get open for the pass." The bulk of the Minor Atom "AA" Jr Sons lineup were also teammates one year ago, now fully acclimatized to the demands of their bench boss, a third round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres (1991) and veteran of more than ten years of professional hockey in Germany.

As such, Gouchie and other returnees are looked to show the way, ensuring that newcomers fully understand the expectations for the team. "We have to talk to them about the rules, and what coach Jason wants to hear out there, how to be a leader and represent the team well," he said.

"You've got to represent your team well when you're out in public. You listen and you respect the property." The class of their age bracket, locally, one year ago, the Jr Sons have noticed the increase in the level of competition in 2017-2018.

"I would think that this year was tougher to get through because the teams that we played last year got a lot better," said Jalbert, a nine year old who was named after his uncle Roddy's last name of O'Grady.

"I'm noticing that they're passing a lot better and back-checking lots, and skating faster." One of a handful of go-to goal scorers on the team, Jalbert has embraced plenty of the offensive teachings of the coaching staff he has enjoyed for the past couple of years.

"Like on a two on one, I'm looking for the other guy on the other side to make a good pass to," he explained. "If the "D" is coming over, towards me, then I pass it, but if the "D" stays on him, then don't pass it. If I'm shooting, I'm looking for corners or five hole, and a good place to shoot from."

Unlike this previous trio, Blind River native Dylan Rousselle is a newcomer to the team. "I came here because we couldn't get a rep team (in Blind River), they only had a houseleague team, and we played them last year," noted the slick-skating blueliner.

"I rush the puck a lot of times," Rousselle continued. "I try and focus on staying wide and looking for my teammates. I'm watching to make plays, so my eyes are always on the net or on our players."

The Gloucester Rangers, Newmarket Redmen, North Toronto Hockey and St Clair Shores Saints round out the field this weekend, with the Rangers the only team that has much in the way of familiarity with the Jr Sons.

"We lost 5-1 against them in Ottawa," said Rousselle. "We couldn't get pucks to the net, and we weren't communicating and passing. But there's very good hockey teams here."

Rounding out the balance of the Nickel City roster are Evan Doyle, Kalia Pharand, Greyson Case, Vincent Beaudry, Mathieu Berthiaume, Lukas Morin, Ryker Young, Bryson Villeneuve, Russell Ranger, Tyson Vitali, Noah Lafrance and Xander Strojny.

Joining Young on the team staff are assistant coaches Joel Whissell and Dan Charbonneau, and team manager Nancy Coté Pharand. The Sons open play Thursday evening at 8:30 p.m., taking on Mississauga.

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