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The amount of Sudbury produced talent on the 2022 version of Team NOHA might be somewhat more modest than usual, but that doesn’t make this week’s event any less critical to the eight members of the Sudbury U16 – U18 AAA Nickel Capitals who cracked the northern roster.

Honestly, goaltender Maverick Fletcher could not have captured the emotions much better.

“I don’t think words could describe how happy I was when I got the call, knowing that all of my hard work has led me to playing in the biggest U16 tournament in the world,” noted the grade 10 student at Collège Notre-Dame.

Fletcher is joined by fellow local products Tyson Rismond, Tyler Thompson, Braeden Vis, Nolan Newton, Caden Dubreuil, Ethan Morris and Aleksander Duguay.

Rounding out the northern crew is a large North Bay contingent (Kaleb Papineau, Grayson Bradley, Zachary Major, Jacob McGill, Masen Wray, Caleb Dawson, Jesse Lefebvre, Marshall McCharles, Nate Gravelle and Heath Bradley), as well as Ryan Armitage from Timmins. The Soo Jr Greyhounds contingent are not included, given that they are otherwise pre-occupied, getting ready to participate in the Central Region U18 AAA Championships in Toronto.

While a good majority of Team NOHA is more than familiar with one another, mainstays of the AAA hockey scene, the same cannot be said for Fletcher, the young puck-stopper who just continues to develop and progress. “I’ve played AA my whole life; this is my first year playing AAA,” he noted.

“Coming into this season, I was wanting to prove people wrong. I’ve been working at this forever, it’s something I really wanted. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. The shooters are going to shoot harder, the game is going to be a lot quicker, so you have to adapt to all that.”

In terms of the specifics of his progression, Fletcher points to his work from post to post as key to reaching his current level of play. “I think the biggest improvement in my play is probably just the movement around the crease,” he said. “I think over the past couple of years, I became more confident and am a lot better on my edges.”

“Being able to move around the crease quick and make those big cross-crease saves is huge.”

As for the mental part of the game, it would appear that Fletcher shares a propensity for statistics that are similar to this writer. “I like to aim for maybe one goal every ten shots, so if they score, I try and focus on trying to stop the next ten,” he explained. “I just keep challenging myself. It helps me forget about that goal and keep focused on the game.”

The truth is that it’s not always easy to stay out of your own head when you’re an OHL hopeful participating at the OHL Cup, with the stands loaded with scouts from all twenty teams. “I think everyone just has to play their game,” said forward Caden Dubreuil, assessing the best possible way of dealing with the pressure.

“Everyone on this team was picked because we are all great hockey players. Just play your game and you’ll be fine.” In his particular case, being something of a rugged customer on the ice is all part of the mix.

“I think my physicality is a big part of my game,” admitted Dubreuil. “I like to throw the body, I’m hard on the forecheck. And if I get in tight, if I get the puck, I’m pretty good at putting it in the back of the net.”

The second leading scorer from the Sudbury U16 team, behind only Nolan Newton, is not lacking in confidence, either on a personal level or whether it involves Team NOHA. “I think we have everything that it takes to win it all,” said Dubreuil, when asked about the realistic expectations for a squad which normally would consider a .500 tournament to be a decent showing.

“I think we’re going all the way in this tournament. If you look at our roster and our size, we’re a really big team. Against those teams from down south, we have to be as physical as possible with them – and we have to be really good defensively. I think we have everything to do that.”

No argument from Sudbury teammate and Team NOHA defenseman Braeden Vis – at least when it comes to a style of play that could pave the way to success. “We’re a physical team; that’s usually how we play hockey up in the north,” said the 16 year old grade ten student at E.S.C. l’Horizon.

That style certainly plays well to his own game, manning the blueline.

“I consider myself a defensive defenseman because I like to lay back and chill on defense,” said Vis. “I try and make sure not to watch the puck, be sure to look at my man, don’t worry about what he’s doing with the puck.”

Partnered with Tyson Rismond for much of the Nickel Capitals season, Vis is looking forward to hopefully enjoying the comfort that comes from the chemistry that has already developed between the tandem as play unfolds this week.

“I know that he’s a reliable partner, he moves the puck well and whenever I pinch or something, he’s always back. He’s got my back all the time.”

Team NOHA opened the event on Wednesday in fine fashion, doubling the London Jr Knights 4-2 as Mason Wrey scored twice and earned player of the game honours. Aleksander Duguay and Jesse Lefebvre rounded out the scoring while locals Tyler Thompson and Nolan Newton also chipped in with one assist each.

Maverick Fletcher came on in relief of starter Kaleb Papineau, with the north leading 3-1 at the time, holding the fort in stopping 11 of the 12 shots that he faced.

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