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St Onge and Dubreuil mark the start of Nickel Capitals signings
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Nearing the start of what appears to be the most normalized year since the 2019-2020 Great North Midget League (GNML) campaign, Sudbury U18 AAA Nickel Capitals' head coach Brian Dickinson and staff are even more excited than usual to get going.

Capturing some of that heightened anticipation, the team has been busy these past few weeks unveiling a number of key signings for the upcoming winter, commencing a few weeks back with the announcement of the return of defenseman Félix St Onge as well as welcoming high-scoring forward Caden Dubreuil to the fold.

Although his point production from the back end was limited, St Onge managed to earn a spot in the regular rotation of blueliners, even as a 15 year-old last year, taking full advantage of the spacious confines of the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex and its larger than normal home ice pad.

"I love having that time, I love having that space," noted the long-time SMHA product. "It helps me to create plays that normally I couldn't create on a shorter ice surface."

For as much as the GNML represents the height of AAA hockey in the north, St Onge noted that the key benefits to his 2021-2022 experience lie in a combination of on-ice competitiveness and off-ice camaraderie.

"It was a great group of guys," St Onge noted of the team that finished in third place in league standings, one point back of the North Bay U16 AAA Trappers and five behind the league-leading Sault Ste Marie Jt Greyhounds.

"I really had a lot of fun travelling with the team, being with the team. But you always have to be improving, getting faster, getting stronger, putting 100% of the work in, reading the play better and adapting all of the time."

With more team announcements to come, St Onge, for one, is adamant that the early commitments are a step in the right direction, helping to put the best possible product on the ice.

"It creates interest; it shows other players that we are doing something," he said. "Honestly, if we even get one or two guys who change their minds and come out to tryouts, it could really help us out this year."

The buzz around the team was enough to lure sniper Caden Dubreuil to the squad. The grade 11 student at St Benedict Catholic Secondary School will enter his first season with the U18 Caps armed with some impressive stats posted in the very same league in which he will compete this winter.

Suiting up with the Sudbury U16 AAA Nickel Capitals one year ago, Dubreuil finished third in league scoring, potting 17 goals and eight assists, his 25 point total in 27 games enough to pull him even with both Will Bourré (NB U18 Trappers) and Bradley Moore (Timmins Majors).

Playing even more games at Countryside this year would seemingly only help his overall point production in year two in the league. "I like to play on the bigger ice surfaces because it allows me to drive wide on the D, to have time and space to think of making a play," said Dubreuil.

The flip side, of course, is that the defensive assignments become a little bit trickier.

"Especially as a centre, on the big ice, you have to work at controlling the gap between you and the player," said Dubreuil. "It's definitely harder with more room out there."

Staying at home when some may opt to move for junior options, the smooth-skating forward has learned to appreciate some of the positives that come with enjoying a level of familiarity with opponents in this part of the province.

"I loved playing the North Bay U16 team last year," said Dubreuil. "I've played against them since major novice and it's always fun playing a rival. And I like playing in Timmins. They have good fans and a very nice rink."

Looking forward to the variety that comes with working with a new coaching staff, or at least one that is new to him, the soon-to-be 16 year old acknowledged that he likely enjoyed the 2021-2022 season every bit as much as St Onge.

"I loved having Jordan (Cheechoo) as a coach last year," said Dubreuil. "He ran really good practices. All of the drills were good and fast paced. He expected a lot out of us and I think we gave him a lot."

Dickinson, for his part, is likely to follow suit in that department, making no bones about where he would most like to shore up his roster heading into the fall. "Scoring; we didn't have a kid in the top 20 in scoring in the league," he noted.

"We really had to piece things together. We couldn't go with a top line because it left too many holes and we would really open ourselves up. This year, I would like more scoring. I think we'll be fine with the speed and I've got a lot of sandpaper with this team as it is."

With player movement sure to be at its peak in the early weeks of September, Dickinson and company are trying to balance between wanting to build a foundation for the upcoming season and the reality of late summer tryouts in the junior and U18 ranks.

"We know the kids that we want but there are some who are still keeping their options open, which is good on them," said Dickinson. "The program is built to move the kids on to the next level."

"There's so much competition out there that we needed to get the word out right now: we're starting," he added. "If you want to be with us, let's get going. I hope to have about half my roster in place by early August."

All of which means that there are more announcements to come as the Sudbury U18 AAA Nickel Capitals prepare for 2022-2023.

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