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Minor hockey routine is returning - albeit somewhat delayed

In elite Ontario female hockey circles, mid-September is circled on the calendar, each and every year, well in advance.

For those who are either involved with or follow this scene closely, picture Christmas Day – on back to back weekends, no less.

And while the Stoney Creek Showcase was backed up one full month this fall and the U18 and U22 divisions were all merged into a single three day stretch, scouts from Canadian and American universities galore still flocked to the area in droves, attending a tournament that has historically ranked among the very best girls hockey showdowns in North America.

Featuring only one player with previous experience at this level, the Sudbury U18 AA Lady Wolves posted a record of 1-2-1 in pool play before dropping a tight 3-2 decision to the North York Storm in their final placement game.

That said, an opening 5-2 triumph over the Waterloo Ravens (C.J. Pardy, Materia Land, Jacinta Eshkawkogen, Aoife Mahaffy, Delaney Bridgeman) and a 1-0 setback of the hands of the tournament champion Durham West Lightning were more than enough of an encouraging takeaway for head coach André Brunette and his staff.

“I think it was super positive, a really good experience for the girls, especially with not having played in so long,” he said. “Overall, the work ethic was really good and we were pretty competitive. We were right there with Durham, so I think we can compete with any team in the Ontario Women’s Hockey League.”

The Lady Wolves followed their win over the Ravens, playing to a 1-1 tie with the Oakville Hornets (Materia Land), but dropping a pair of games on Saturday: 4-1 to the Brampton Canadettes (Kylah Small) and 1-0 to Durham West. Playing what amounted to a friendship game on Sunday, the locals received markers from Pardy and Sierra Boyuk, coming up just short against the Storm.

“I think we need to refine the systems a little bit – we really haven’t had a chance to touch on that many systems with the late start,” said coach Brunette. “We’ll be working more on the defensive side, developing those good habits, being on the right side of the puck, not coming down too low in our own zone and leaving the points empty - really, just refining our play in our own end.”

The 2021-2022 edition of the Sudbury U18 AA Lady Wolves also includes goaltenders Zoe Rienguette and Emily Dambremont, defencemen Alexei Dokis-Dupuis, Arijana Tuttle, Sequoia Nebenionquit, Kendra Shanks and Kamryn Hammell, as well as forwards Breanna Coyne, Abby Lanteigne and Madison Hollohan (in addition to those listed above).

This past weekend, the Lady Wolves opened their regular season OWHL play with a 0-0 draw facing the Barrie Sharks, with Rienguette posting the shutout.

There wasn’t a whole lot more scoring than that in the U15 AAA boys’ matchups this past weekend featuring the Nickel City Sons and the visiting Soo Jr Greyhounds, with the latter racking up tightly contested victories of 2-1 and 2-0.

Carter Makasoff broke the ice Saturday for the Sons, tallying in the middle stanza only to see Rylie Carter reply with a pair of third period goals, lifting the Hounds past the locals in game one. Less than 24 hours later, Coulson Bell and Brendan Cooke sniped for the Sault just 25 seconds apart, their first period efforts standing tall thanks to a shutout performance from netminder Nick Marson.

Given that this age group basically missed the entire first year of when body checking is allowed, it’s no surprise that several coaches are feeling like they are playing a little bit of catch-up, with so much to cover in practice.

“I think we are still a ways away with my group – other teams are a little further ahead,” noted Cory Schiewek, picking up the reins behind the bench with this group of Sons for the first time in about five years or so. “I’ve got a lot of new players with my group and I feel that we’ve been a little slower adapting to the contact.”

“We’re turning the puck over way too much when we feel the pressure. We’re not taking that half second and getting the puck tape to tape. When we learn that we can get hit and still make a play and it doesn’t hurt us, we’re going to be a lot further along.”

Still, there are signs that this too shall come, given that there was no denying that there were a great number of positives coming out of their battles with the league leaders on the weekend.

“The group itself has gelled better than I have seen with this team,” said Schiewek. “They are trusting each other, they care for each other, the camaraderie, the unity is really good in the room. And the work ethic, overall, is there.”

Game play is helping to identify the deficiencies, with the Sons recently returned from their first tournament of the season. “We realized, when we got back from Peterborough, that we are not bending our knees to give or take a hit,” said Schiewek. “We’re standing straight up and lifting our bodies before we deliver a hit.”

The U15 AAA Sons, along with most of the local AAA contingent, will be back in action locally on the weekend of November 4th to the 7th, as the Big Nickel Hockey Tournament returns with a field that has more than doubled in size since the event was last hosted locally in 2019.

Among the participants, the Sudbury U18 Nickel Capitals and smooth-skating defenceman Carson Crane, who is sure to be a popular young man come time for the post-season three on three tournaments next spring.

Coach Brian Dickinson and his team are undefeated through three games, thanks in large part to Crane who has potted a pair of overtime game-winning goals already in the young season. The elder Caps spotted their U16 AAA counterparts a 4-1 lead after two periods of play last Wednesday, rallying to edge coach Jordan Cheechoo’s crew 5-4.

Bryson Smith, Cameron Allen, Ethan Morris and Noah Kohan joined Crane on the scoresheet for the winners, with Nolan Newton (2), Caden Dubreuil and Atom Thususka replying in a losing cause.

On Saturday, Logan Carr held the fort facing a Timmins Majors group that was badly outshooting the Caps early on as Sudbury knocked off the visitors 6-3. Call-up Tyler Cloutier scored twice to show the way, with Reid Lafrance, Dominic Morris, Thomas Rinaldi and Carson Crane also finding the back of the net.

It was back to one goal affairs on Sunday as Timmins battled from behind to force overtime, only to see the locals enjoy the last laugh as Crane pushed Sudbury to another 5-4 win, giving the victory between the pipes to goaltender Noah Beaulne, just back from his first OHL camp in Kingston.

“I try and keep my mind on the end goal and that’s winning the game,” said the 17 year old puck-stopper, who fell victim to a few strange bounces in posting a 2-0-0 record. “I need to keep focusing, keep my eyes on the puck, tracking it well and communicating with my team.”

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