The Rayside-Balfour Canadians have only just begun putting the building blocks in place for the 2021-2022 season - but if you are going to begin laying the groundwork for the pathway to another ultra-competitive season, starting in your own backyard is not at all a bad way to go.
The local NOJHLers confirmed three local signings on Tuesday, garnering commitments from forwards Benjamin Harris, Cameron Shanks and Pierson Sobush, all of whom played with the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves last year, in what little season they had.
Though they share plenty in common, there are some not too subtle differences, including the size factors as the lads range from 6'3" (Shanks) to 5'9" (Sobush), with Harris squeezed pretty much right in the middle.
"I'm a pretty big guy, so I can provide some physicality," said Shanks, a 17 year old winger. "I think I can play the whole game, both offense and defense. I'm pretty good at visualizing the ice and I think I can work well with a lot of different players."
"I should be able to mesh into the team quite well, quite quickly."
And though Shanks will arrive with above-average size when it comes to a standard NOJHL roster, he is still giving up two to three years of experience in the league to many of his opponents, something of which he is keenly aware.
"I'm going to have to see where I fit in, those first couple of games, to see how everything flows at the junior level," he said. "Then I can work on striking a balance between the physicality and just making the plays I need to make."
"You don't always need to make those humongous hits, all the time. You can often provide just enough contact to get the puck - that often works."
At the other end of the scale, Sobush has also morphed his game over the years, dating back to his start in the "AAA" ranks as a peewee talent within the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association.
"There's a couple of things that have changed, for sure, over time," he said. "I am a smaller player, so I had to focus on using my speed all of the time, on every single area of the ice. I still like to play a little chippy, try and get under people's skin."
"Unfortunately, being a smaller guy, it doesn't always work out."
Rounding out the trio, Harris also recognizes that the jump from the GNML (Great North Midget League) to junior hockey can prove challenging, if you're unwilling to adjust and break some minor hockey habits.
"The speed is much quicker," said the 6'0" forward who spent a couple of his midget hockey years in North Bay. "I think that I've got to be able to keep up with the guys, see how they play and adjust my game."
"I have to make sure I'm finishing my checks, every time, that I'm not just doing skate-bys, making sure I am doing the hard stops. I feel like I am ready and excited for it."
Compounding the need for tweaking their game comes the reality of the change in home venues.
"On the Countryside ice, you have more time and space," suggested Harris. "Once you go to Chelmsford, there's not as much space, so you've got to think quicker, have your head on a swivel at all times."
Thankfully, all three newcomers will be able to draw on some experience, albeit quite limited, as the tandem have all seen time as affiliated players with the Canadians.
"The one thing I noticed right away is the speed of the game - but another odd thing that I noticed was just how hard people pass at the next level," said Sobush with a laugh. "It wasn't that hard to adjust to, but sometimes, you just notice little things like that."
In the end, all three are hoping to be able to contribute, right off the hop, come September, even if goals and assists might not be particularly bountiful to start.
"If the numbers aren't coming, I just have to make sure that I'm winning all of the 50/50 battles, that sort of thing," said Shanks. "If you're not scoring, then make sure that you're not being scored on."
"If you keep playing your game, eventually, the stats will come."
In other news from around the NOJHL, Canadians' forward Nick DeGrazia has been ranked by NHL Central Scouting as a potential third round pick in the upcoming NHL draft.
A native of Thunder Bay and Sudbury Wolves' prospect, DeGrazia registered 61 points in 46 games in a relatively full 2019-2020 campaign in Rayside, adding another 15 points in just ten games this past winter.
The speedy forward is the second highest ranked player in CJHL (Canadian Junior Hockey League) ranks, behind only Corson Ceulemans of the Brooks Bandits.
It was also noted on social media this week that long-time Nickel City Sons' forward Brayden Lafrance has signed with the Espanola Express for the upcoming season.