Nickel Caps more than making the best of 2018-2019|
by Randy Pascal
Sure, the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves could have done without the early season drama.
Head coach Brian Dickinson was not officially confirmed and put in place until barely three weeks prior to the start of the 2018-2019 campaign.
Tryouts were generally poorly attended, with the combined total of defencemen and goaltenders easily outnumbering the forwards in attendance. Players who
might have been key cogs bolted to other teams, concerned with the uncertainty surrounding the local midget AAA team.
Safe to say that there was some real concern about just how competitive this version of the Nickel Caps might be.
But as we turn the calendar on 2018 and look forward to the Great North Midget League playoffs roughly six weeks away, the two-time defending
league champs have become one of the “feel good” stories of the local sports scene.
Despite not returning a single player from the roster that they iced as host of the 2019 Telus Cup last April, the Sudbury midgets have nestled
themselves right into the middle of the league standings, hitting the new year with a record of 12-9-3-0. More impressively, the team has managed to go toe
to toe over the course of the last month with both the North Bay Trappers (25-0-0-0) and the Kapuskasing Flyers (22-4-0-0).
True, the smart money in these parts is not being laid necessarily on a Nickel Caps three-peat, but coach Dickinson and the lads are a long way from the
worse case scenario that some envisioned in early September.
“We don't have the most gifted kids, but we have probably the hardest working group around,” said Dickinson last week, just before his team went out and
swept a weekend double-header with the Timmins Majors. “They come to the rink every day, knowing that nothing is going to come easy. They have to
pull together as a group.”
The slate could not have been much cleaner when Dickinson attended his first tryout session in late August. Little surprise then that a period of
acclimatization would ensue. “At the start of the year, we put kids in positions that they had never been in before,” he said. “We, as a staff, were able
to see who could fit what role.”
“Because we can take to the ice with anywhere from 11 to 17 skaters, these kids have been put in every situation imaginable. We've been very, very lucky
that some kids have really stepped up.”
Of the 17 players (not including goaltenders) who are ready to do battle with Dickinson and company for the next two months or more, no less than nine
would have to be considered more or less life-long defencemen. Some kids were clearly going to have to adapt to new roles.
“I played forward a couple of shifts last year, but that was about it,” acknowledged 16 year old second year midget Jean Gigučre, who also serves
as team captain. It is very easy to conceive that some of his “I will do whatever it takes to help this team” attitude is very much part and parcel of
donning the “C” for the first time, even if it means learning hockey from a completely different vantage point.
“Taking the puck out of the zone is a lot more challenging along the boards than I thought, and the forecheck is a lot harder,” said Gigučre. “You skate
a lot more. This is my first time ever as captain, but I didn't change very much. I try and be a good example, always working hard, on and off the ice.
That's pretty much how I go.”
With natural goal scorers not likely to proliferate the Nickel Capital Wolves dressing room any time soon, the team is committed to a style of play that
can help them enjoy a degree of success right across the league, and remain in the game against the GNML heavyweights.
“We have to stay disciplined, bury our chances, and make sure that we play a good defensive system,” summarized Gigučre, a grade 11 student at Ecole
Franco-Cité in Sturgeon Falls. A former cross-town rival as a product of the Nickel City Sons, blueliner Avery Chisholm echoes the
thoughts of both his teammate and coach.
“If we want to win, we have to work together,” he said. “That's the biggest thing.” Opting to forego opportunities in the NOJHL in favour of the
development that comes via a key role and heavy minutes as a rearguard for the Sudbury midgets, Chisholm has narrowed his focus, this year, to key areas of
“My biggest thing is to make sure I get good shots on net, get the puck out of the zone so that we're not scrambling, and be physical on the back end,”
said the 16 year old grade 11 student at Collčge Notre Dame. And despite the obvious separation in the standings, Chisholm most enjoys the challenge
that comes with facing the GNML front-runners.
“I like playing against North Bay,” he said. “They work hard, they've got skill, it's always a good time. I always get fired up to play them.” For his
part, coach Dickinson had no trouble rhyming off a whole slew of players who could fit the moniker of “unsung heroes”.
Jack Heaphy, Max Villano, Jimmy Blanchard, Bradey Smith, both of his goaltenders (Owen Kilganon and Ryan Teddy) all drew praise.
But to be completely honest, Dickinson could have easily listed each and every one of the 19 names that he has grown to respect and appreciate.
“There is not a single kid that is going to win a game for us,” said the long-time local bench boss. “If we're not working together as a team, we're not
going to be successful.”
And when it comes to getting a buy-in, right around the room, perhaps no-one embodies the type of approach to their hockey career that coaches so love
moreso than Avery Chisholm, as he discusses where this might lead to a year from now.
“I'm just thinking about playing hockey,” he said. “Wherever I can find a spot, I'll be happy there.”
Weekend Update: Bradey Smith scored the game's first two goals, joined later on the scoresheet by both Jean Gigučre and Nicholas
Faught as Sudbury doubled Timmins 4-2 on Saturday. Faught was right back at it the next afternoon, netting a pair of tallies, with Max Villano, Smith
and Draper MacLean capping off a 5-1 victory over the same opponent.
The Weekend Ahead: The Sudbury Minor Midget "AAA" Wolves play host to the Soo Minor Midget Thunderbirds Friday night in
Garson (7:00 p.m.), while the Nickel Caps tackle a much busier schedule, welcoming the Soo Rivercity Motorsports Major Midget Thunderbirds
(Friday - Copper Cliff - 7:30 p.m. and Saturday - Coniston - 2:00 p.m.) and the New Liskeard Cubs (Sunday - 2:30 p.m. - Gerry McCrory Sports Complex)
to town for a three-game set.