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Excitement galore as guests take Silver Stick centre stage
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In a typical year, a smattering of local teams would be among the squads vying for glory on Silver Stick Sunday, hosted annually in early December in Sudbury.

Sure, the glut of entries from southern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley has made it increasingly difficult, in recent years, to retain championship banners in the north. Still, we could still count on perhaps two or three groups representing local hockey associations to advance on to International Silver Stick competition in January.

December of 2021, however, is anything but typical.

A field that was reduced to roughly 50% of the 2018 and 2019 versions of the tournament, a bi-product of pandemic concerns, produced nary a team donning Sudbury Minor Hockey Association, Nickel City Hockey Association nor Copper Cliff Minor Hockey Association colours in the Sunday finals.

What did remain constant, thankfully, was the excitement that one can count on as young athletes give it their all in pursuit of all that is the Silver Stick tradition.

Nowhere was this more exemplified than in the U15AA final as the Timmins North Stars rode a big-time 18-save shutout performance from goaltender Nathan Malley and a solitary goal from Ian Lachance, upsetting the Mississauga Terriers 1-0 in the very last game of the event.

“I don’t think anybody in Timmins expected this particular group to win a championship this year, any championship, so this is big for us,” noted long-time Timmins' coach Steven Vachon. “Our goalie was stellar and my team played an almost perfect game - and that’s what we needed.”

Somewhat tentative out of the gates after picking up playoff wins of 3-1 (QF vs Marathon) and 2-1 (SF vs Vaughan) – Mississauga, by comparison, blanked both Kapuskasing (6-0) and North Bay (3-0) en route to the final – the North Stars seemed to garner a little extra boost of confidence at the end of a scoreless first period, deadlocked in shots on goal as well at six apiece.

“I think we all felt a little bit nervous coming in,” said team captain Teegan Bertrand, donning the “C” for the first time this year. “It was a huge game and we really wanted this championship. The coaches got us going, got the energy flowing so we would hit those first few shifts really hard.”

As for the hurdles that needed to be cleared to put themselves in position for a banner, Bertrand believes that it all may have helped out, in the end. “I feel that when we win by one, we keep on striving, but if you keep winning 3-0, 6-0, it’s easy to think that you’re just going to win all of this,” he said.

“Since all of our games were close games, we knew that this would be a close game too and that we had to push and pressure them.”

That sense of feeling on equal footing is certainly something that Vachon has worked with as he has guided the core of this group for a few years now, though they did lose a notable chunk (eight players, by his count) that opted to pursue “AAA” options out of town this year.

“Over the years, we’ve talked a lot about having a “big dog” mentality,” Vachon suggested with a smile. “It doesn’t matter what your physical stature is, it doesn’t matter if you’re the lightest and shortest guy on the ice - you can still have a “big dog” mentality.”

That would come in especially handy against an opponent who had surrendered all of three goals against in their five games to that point. “They are big, they are fast, they are skilled,” said Vachon of the Terriers. “They’re very intimidating in their dark uniforms. We knew we had our work cut out for us.”

The North Bay U11AA Trappers, meanwhile, had already played the Timmins U11AA North Stars to a 3-3 draw in round robin play and squeaked past the Ottawa Valley Aces 2-1 in semi-final action before taking on their northern foe in a championship tilt rematch.

“I was very scared before the finals; I just didn’t want to lose,” explained 10 year old North Bay forward Oren French, moments after the Trappers wrapped up a 5-3 triumph over the North Stars in capturing their Silver Stick pins. “We knew that we had to out-skate them, make them tired and never give up so that we could over-power them.”

French recorded the hat trick, noting the help of his linemates, while solo markers came courtesy of Mason MacIsaac and Grady Roynon. “Henry (Lepkan) can be in front of the net and me and Kaleb (Boucher) can get the puck to him in front of the net,” French opined. “Usually, that’s what gets us all our goals – he’s (Lepkan) either getting rebounds or me or Kaleb are scoring.”

No less than half of the finals would require overtime, including an absolute thriller as North York U14AA Knights’ netminder Brandon Kim stole the show, notably in the four on four down to one on one sessions in which the Gloucester U14AA Rangers often controlled more than their fair share of the play.

With Kim coming up with big save after big save, Justin Chin eventually rewarded his tired puckstopper, sweeping around the Rangers’ netminder halfway through the fourth period of overtime (each session lasts three minutes before dropping a player).

The U13 AA gold medal tilt also required a little extra time as the North York Knights overcame a one goal deficit in the third, equalizing matters before eventually chalking up a dramatic 2-1 win, in overtime, over the Timmins North Stars.

Lacey Rivers (Timmins) and Dylan Siegel (North York) traded tallies earlier in the contest before captain Leo Golden would play the hero, netting the game-winning goal.

In a much more wide open affair, Andrew Pusch capped off an incredibly balanced Sault Ste Marie U10 AA Junior Greyhounds’ attack, becoming the sixth separate goal scorer as his team stopped the North Bay U10 AA Trappers 6-5 in overtime.

Joining Pusch in the Hounds’ scoring parade were Garson Robertson, Ryder Demidovich, Blake Kennedy, Grady Scott and Jax Tardif, while Sawyer Gedanitz, with a pair, as well as Jackson Ross, Jacob Kracjci and Mac Degagne replied in a losing cause.

Finally, the Upper Ottawa Valley Aces were the class of the U12 AA field, outscoring their opponents 38-4 en route to the tournament victory. A two goal effort from Quintin Deruiter and singletons from Wyatt Lang and Ben Schori proved to be enough as the Aces doubled the Sault Ste Marie U12 AA Jr Greyhounds 4-2.

Landon Coulter and Jarrett Solomon both found the back of the net for the Lock City reps.

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