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GymZone - Home of the Sudbury Laurels
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018
Sudbury stories of the NOJHL Showcase
2018-10-11
by Randy Pascal

The notion of a centralized “Showcase” event, in Sudbury, makes sense on so many levels for the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL). The reality is that it goes far beyond the obvious, the chance to gather the league's talent, from all twelve teams, in a singular location, an ideal setting for the various scouts and coaches of post-secondary schools who attend.

The fact is Sudbury is also highly centralized when it comes to a mid-point, for travel purposes, for the vast majority of the franchises in the Junior “A” loop. Furthermore, there is likely not a single NOJHL entry that does not include some sort of cross-connection to the Nickel City, be it through current players, staff members, administrators, fans and parents.

The 3rd annual NOJHL Showcase, which has partnered, once again, with the folks at the Canadian Mental Health Association (Sudbury/Manitoulin Branch), have monopolized the bulk of the ice time at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex the past few days. The event allowed all twelve teams to complete in a pair of encounters that are part and parcel of the NOJHL regular season schedule.

Given that lay of the land, it wasn't all that difficult to track down a handful of varied representatives of the Sudbury and area hockey landscape, all while catching up with a full third of the field that will vie for the McNamara Trophy this year.

Shawn Frappier enjoys at least a pair of strong ties to the local hockey community, having suited up for nearly one hundred games as a member of the Sudbury Wolves and, years later, his days of professional hockey behind him, throwing himself into the “AAA” coaching ranks in this region.

That is the resumé that the 43 year-old Sudbury native carries with him as he attempts to guide the French River Rapids to a post-season berth in 2018-2019. Taking over behind the bench this fall, inheriting a squad that posted a record of 13-38-5-0 last season, Frappier has seen his club remain far more competitive, game in and game out, despite posting a record of 1-10-1-0 out of the gate.

On Tuesday, his lads rewarded their new coach with a 3-2 victory over the Soo Eagles, courtesy of goals from Marc-André Quevillon, Ryan Smith and Alex Paul, and a commitment to the very same priorities that Frappier has preached at pretty much every level of the sport.

“Other than the speed of the game, the game hasn't really changed that much,” he said. “It's all of the little things – paying the price, stopping on the puck, driving the net. It's just a matter of enforcing these items with these guys. To play at the next level, it's not about talent, most of the time.”

The Rapids would make it two for two on Wednesday, picking up a 5-2 win over the Espanola Express as Will Frustaglio drilled home a pair of markers, including the game-winning goal on the power-play, capitalizing on a critical element of their game.

"Specialty teams are huge in this league," said Frappier. "We have to get better on special teams. We're doing ok on the "PK", but on the power play, guys are standing around. We're not attacking the net. It's the guys without the puck. The guys need to have faith in their teammates that they are going to get the puck back, but they need to get into the open."

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A member of the Sudbury Minor Midget “AAA” Wolves one year ago, Chase Lammi faced the very same decision-making process that the vast majority of similar local players have endured over the past six or seven years, dealing with the reality that their OHL/long-term hockey dreams might take some more work, the teenagers passed over in the draft in their 15 year-old season.

In the end, Lammi would opt to sign on with the Espanola Express, foregoing the opportunity to return for one final crack at the minor hockey midget ranks. “I wanted to play junior because I know that it's faster and definitely a step up from major midget,” he said. “I thought I could improve and it would benefit me more than playing major midget.”

The debate on the merits of that statment is admittedly a contentious one, and admittedly one that carries different pros and cons with each individual player. But with nine points in his first 13 games, leading the Express in scoring at the moment, it would be hard to suggest that in this particular case, the decision was a bad one for Lammi.

“I think I've been playing well,” he said. “I've really been keeping my head up and making good plays. I've been putting some points on the board, which I am happy with. I've just got to keep going.”

Like most who make the jump to this level, Lammi has noticed a difference from his minor hockey days, even in terms of the general systems that are primarily in use. "In minor midgets, it's more about controlling the puck, enter the zone, make a play," he said.

"Here, you get into the zone and you have to chip, ccyle, make quick plays and shoot lots."

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Local defenceman Brandon Atkins is also at a cross-roads, again, in his hockey career. More than a year removed from being selected by the Saginaw Spirit in the fourth round of the recently created U18 draft, the local blueliner survived right down to the very last cuts this fall with the Acadie-Bathurst Titans of the QJMHL, before being released from tryouts.

No surprise that the Rayside-Balfour Canadians were more than willing to welcome Atkins back with open arms, the smooth-skating 18 year-old having piled up 21 points in 47 games in his rookie campaign in the NOJHL. Still, coming back is never easy.

“I was at those camps to make major junior teams,” said Atkins on Wednesday. “Coming back here is obviously disappointing, but I am just trying to improve every day, win for this team and eventually get to that level.”

Atkins would open the scoring and play a key role in a big 3-2 win as the Canadians handed the Powassan Voodoos their first loss in regulation time this year. The contest left the well-spoken prospect feeling good about both his own play, as well as that of his team.

“I thought I made really good decisions today, making stuff happen out there, looking for back door plays, helping create a lot of scoring chances,” he said. “As a team, after the first five minutes, we were a well-oiled machine, passing the puck well, dumping it deep, retrieving it, hitting guys.”

A blueliner who is far more likely to use his skating ability than shere brute strength in tackling his defensive zone assignments, Atkins is comfortable with an approach that he feels has paid dividends in his own end of the ice.

"You need good edge work, but the biggest thing is being in the right position, having your stick on the ice in passing lanes and, when you can, finish the body."

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Baldino Aiello is a Sudbury product by virtue of hockey adoption only, so to speak. The native of Thunder Bay was a member of the Rayside-Balfour Canadians throughout their NOJHL West Division championship playoff run last spring, billeting in this area before being moved to the Cochrane Crunch in the off-season.

“I didn't really know what was going to happen at the end of last year, whether I would get moved or stay,” he said, shortly after netting a third period hat trick on Tuesday evening, leading the Crunch to a 5-2 win over the Elliot Lake Wildcats. “Ultimately, I ended up getting moved to Cochrane and, you know what, the guys made it a really easy transition, made me feel really at home.”

Despite his offensive outburst at the Showcase, Aiello does not expect to stray too far away from the calling cards of his game after racking up 13 goals and six assists in 53 games with Rayside last year. “I'm more of a defensive-minded forward,” he said. “My role is to shut guys down more than score, but some nights, you just get lucky.”

"It was really my linemates today," Aiello added. "(Hunter) Buzzi and (Owen) Perala were just in the right spots, getting the puck to me. It wouldn't have happened without them."

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After winning both of their encounters at the Showcase - the Canadians opened play with a 5-2 triumph over the Hearst Lumberjacks - Rayside-Balfour is about to face yet another stiff test. The Powassan Voodoos are in Chelmsford Thursday night at 7:00 p.m., almost certainly looking to even the score following their close loss in Sudbury on Wednesday.

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