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Friday, Mar. 22, 2019
Plenty of on-ice success to be celebrated in Sudbury
2018-12-17
by Randy Pascal

There is absolutely no denying that the mood around the Sudbury Community Arena these days is substantially more upbeat than it has been for the majority of the past five to ten years.

A pair of decent winning streaks, combined with a record setting stretch at home and a lofty perch within the OHL Eastern Conference standings has created a buzz in the old barn that extends well beyond the impending arrival of the jolly old elf.

Yet this is not the only local hockey story that has Greater Sudbury folks, fully invested in their respective teams, feeling festive these days.

The Sudbury Midget “AA” Lady Wolves are not showing any signs at all of taking their foot off the gas as they rev up the engines in anticipation of hosting the Esso Cup national championships in April. The local entry, already guaranteed a berth in the tournament, improved to 13-0-1 in Lower Lakes Female Hockey League play with a pair of home ice victories over the weekend.

The girls blanked the second place Brampton Canadettes 3-0 on Saturday as Lauren Hancock, Katie Chomiak and Makayla Gratton all found the back of the net for coach Jay Duncan and company. The Lady Wolves then dominated the visiting Toronto Aeros the next day, scoring twice in each of the final two periods en route to a 4-1 victory.

Taylor Scott, Jenna Miller and Madisyn Papineau joined Hancock on the scoresheet, as the Sudbury girls now shift their focus to a visit from the North Bay Ice Boltz (7-3-2). The northern rivals take to the ice Thursday at 8:15 p.m. at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex. The Lady Wolves close out 2018 with a home encounter on Saturday at 2:15 p.m., at which time the team will be retiring the jersey of Mélisa Kingsley, the 20 year-old local talent who lost a three year battle with cancer earlier this fall.

Following a 5-2-0-1 mark in November, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians of the NOJHL have turned the calendar to December in style. Picking up two more wins in their recent three games in three nights sequence, the troops under the guidance of coaches Dan Cuomo and Steve Lauzon have now emerged victorious in six of their past seven outings, including a home and home sweep of the division-leading Soo Thunderbirds.

Minor-midget call-up Chase Stillman netted a pair of goals Thursday in Chelmsford as Rayside-Balfour derailed the Espanola Express 5-2, continuing a stretch of defensive excellence that followed directly on the heels of back to back shutouts over the Blind River Beavers and the Thunderbirds.

After suffering a humbling 8-3 loss in Espanola the very next night, the Canadians displayed some inner resiliency, travelling to Sault Ste Marie and doubling the T-Birds 4-2 on Saturday. Defenceman Brandon Atkins drilled home the first two goals for Rayside, both in the second period, with veterans Kyle Liinamaa and Jett Leishman closing things off in the third.

Local success wasn't limited to home ice encounters in recent weeks, as the Sudbury Minor Midget “AAA” Wolves transitioned seamlessly from a mid-season coaching change, capturing the Gold Puck Tournament in Waterloo.

With Trevor Blanchard and Vagelli Sakellaris now behind the bench, the Wolves posted a perfect 4-0 mark in round robin play, beating the Lambton Sting (4-3), the Huron Perth Lakers (5-1), the host Waterloo Wolves (4-1) and the Cambridge Hawks (5-1).

From there, it was on to the semi-finals, where the Sudbury reps blanked Detroit Compuware 4-0, closing off the event in style with a 3-1 gold medal triumph over the Kitchener Jr Rangers. “Vagelli and I had essentially two practices with these kids, so we didn't want to re-invent the wheel as far as systems go,” said Blanchard.

“We had a chance to talk a lot on the way to Waterloo, so we went through a few minor systems that we both like to run. We kind of coached on the fly and it worked out really well.” Given that both gentlemen have experience either with “AAA” or junior hockey coaching, the game plan moving forward was not a difficult one to agree upon.

“There are two tournaments left and that's our main priority, to make sure that these kids showcase well and that they have a chance to play in front of an abundance of OHL scouts and NCAA personnel,” stated Blanchard. “Their goal is to get to the next level, and we're just trying to aid that process.”

As for some on-ice tips, there might be a little tweaking to be done, simply based on one obvious strength of this strong skating local crew. “They are so good and so fast that they have a tendency of chasing pucks,” said Blanchard. “We're trying to teach them that there are times when you can sit back and play a little bit more of a defensive passive system and feast on giveaways, rather than try and force the issue and hope for the takeaway.”

Despite their long and rich hockey tradition, the 2018-2019 version of the St Charles College Cardinals recently accomplished something no prior edition of the Cards had done, capturing gold at the Father Mac Memorial Tournament in Niagara Falls.

Backstopped by some stellar netminding from Kam McCue, a tournament MVP performance from Matty Belanger, and some nice balanced scoring across the roster, the Cards survived an eight place finish in the preliminary round, just barely squeezing into the playoffs before besting the St Francis Phoenix from St Catharines (6-2), upsetting the Dennis Morris CHS Reds 4-2, and outscoring the hometown St Michael's Mustangs 7-5 in the final.

A local threat to knock the Cardinals off as SDSSAA defending champs, the Horizon Aigles also walked away with tournament bragging rights recently, finishing first at the North York High School Hockey Tournament. The Aigles overcame a 2-0 deficit with about 12 minutes to play in the final, opening the floodgates and posting a 5-2 win in the championship affair over O'Connor from Scarborough.

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