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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
Major Atom Redmen prepare for stiffest test yet
by Randy Pascal

With a very gradual and steady progression over the course of the past four years now behind them, the Copper Cliff Major Atom "AA" Redmen are ready to tackle one of their stiffest challenges yet.

The local youngsters left today for Sarnia, site of the International Silver Stick tournament that includes teams from both Canada and the United States, competing in the Atom "A", "AA" and "AAA" brackets, along with the Midget "A" and "AA" reps.

"When we were Select Sevens, we lost every game," recalled forward Liam Judd. "In novice, we weren't really that good. Last year, we were pretty good and this year, we are winning lots of tournaments."

Truth be told, there are likely two components to this improvement. For starters, the core of this team, which have now developped over the past four years with coach Ryan Yurich and his staff, have assimilated the lessons learned over time.

Similar drills, repeated over and over, eventually create those key moments where the knowledge is absorbed. "We've done a lot with three on twos, and two on ones" said Judd. "If we make a rush in a game, we have to know what we are going to do."

"Most of the time, on a three on two, we do "high guy". One guy goes wide with the puck, and one guy stays high, and the other guy drives to the net," explained the grade five student at Holy Trinity. "You can either pass to the guy in front of the net, or the high guy."

The second reason for the jump in level of play has been the addition of more talent to the fold, players who have made their way over from their previous teams. Defenseman Dawson Morris is not only adjusting to a new team, but also to a new position, having played as a forward during his time with the Sudbury Wolves.

Partnered with for teammate Matthew Trottier on a blueline pairing, Morris noted that both his shot and vision of the ice from the back-end favour his move from forward, even as he commits to garnering a better understanding of the intricacies of solid defensive play.

"My gap control is tough," he acknowledged. "I am good at keeping them to the outside, but my gap control isn't the best. If it's a one on one, if they are going wide, your hand with the stick follows the puck. Your other hand, you have to keep it near their chest and don't look at the puck."

Offering great pre-tournament preparation for the Copper Cliff crew is the Nickel City Major Atom "AA" Jr Sons team which battled the Redmen in the Regional Silver Stick final in each of the past two years (the teams split the honours), as well as a very talented Sault Ste Marie squad which the locals will meet in Blind River, at times, for exhibition encounters.

"The Sault have a lot of good players with really good hands," said Morris. "They can dangle. Their breakout is different than the Sons. They always go behind the net and then make a really long outlet pass to their far winger. The Sons usually go behind the net and then pass it to the boards, like we usually do."

More blueline support comes in the form of former Manitoulin Panthers' rearguard Kohyn Eshkawkogan, who rose to the occasion with the game in overtime as Nickel City and Copper Cliff went toe to toe for the right to travel to Sarnia.

"We had some miscommunication, so they got the puck, but I backchecked and passed it to Liam (Judd)," said the grade five student at Little Current Public School. "Liam passed it to Mason (Walker), and Mason scored."

"I had to pass it to Mason because someone tripped me," added Judd. "Mason went up and the guy tried to lift his stick, so he went backhand and scored." With a few years of play on defense already under his belt, Eshkawkogan does not mind sharing some advice, from time to time, with Morris and other teammates.

"Like if someone is in the offensive zone and is pinching, then the partner has to back him up and support him," he said. "And you pinch when they don't have full control of the puck, and don't pinch when they have full control."

The Copper Cliff Major Atom "AA" Redmen will open play in Sarnia with two games on Friday, meeting up with the PAL (Pride in Athletics for Life) Knights from Long Island (NY), as well as the Port Huron Flags.

Saturday monring, the Redmen are pitted opposite the St Peter's Spirit from St Louis (Missouri), with the top eight of the sixteen participating teams moving on to the quarter-finals later that day.

The 2018-2019 lineup for the Redmen is comprised of Jeremy Thall, Desmond Whitmore, Masimo Toffoli, Mason Walker, Ryder Coe, Ryan Yurich, Liam Judd, Lincoln Lachance, Ashton Pitawanakwat, Kaden Wicklander, Kohyn Eshkawkogan, Jameson Fabbro, Maksim Beljo, Matthew Trottier, Jayden Ceming, Khade Metatawabin and Dawson Morris.

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