Northern Hockey Academy
Desjardins Metro - Val Est Mall
GymZone - Home of the Sudbury LaurelsCaruso Club
Pieces coming together nicely for U18 AAA Nickel Capitals
(picture not found)

The pieces are starting to come together for head coach Brian Dickinson and the Sudbury U18 AAA Nickel Capitals.

But like any good puzzle that is worth assembling, this team will be comprised of a variety of pieces that are somewhat unique, each of whom brings something a little different to the table.

"I'm more of a battling penalty kill kind of a guy," suggested 17 year old forward Bryson Smith, one of a handful of returning players to the roster this winter. "Get to the red line, get it in, battle it out and get it to the guys who can score."

Still, for as much as Smith knows and recognizes his role, there remains a part of the Confederation Secondary School senior that would like to see a bump up from the 12 point (8G - 4A) campaign of one year ago.

"On the power play, I would get put in front of the net a lot and I made a difference there," he said. "I can shoot the puck. When I get open space, I'm good. When it's in tight, I'm not as smooth."

Nothing if not realistic when it comes to his own self-assessment, Smith has already targetted where the potential growth in his game could come. "I've got to work on not always wanting to give the puck to another guy and maybe keep it a bit more for myself," he said.

Having the puck on his stick has almost become second nature for speedy forward Aleksander Duguay, who along with both Bryson Smith and defenseman Tyler Thompson were announced as team commitments a few weeks back, joining the earlier signings of Caden Dubreuil and FĂ©lix St-Onge.

A 16 year-old who spent the 2021-2022 campaign as a right winger to Barrie Colts' fifth round pick Nolan Newton with the Sudbury U16 AAA Nickel Capitals, Duguay would prefer to transition over, if possible, to his more natural position in the middle of the ice.

"I am hoping to be a centreman," said the grade 11 transferee to St Charles College. "I really think I can bring a lot as a centreman compared to a winger. As a center, you have to battle more in the corners and help get the puck out but then also support your wingers so that they have an outlet to get out of the zone."

"You have to keep your feet moving the entire time to generate speed coming out of your zone. I think I can contribute offensively, but still be a 200-foot player."

That belief is further cemented with his move to the spacious confines of the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex this year. "I like this side (side #1 at Countryside) because it's wider," said Duguay.

"I really like to move laterally on the ice; I'm not so much of a straight-line skater."

Safe to say that skating ability is almost always accentuated for those who play their home games at the Sudbury south end facility. Tyler Thompson is no different and the rookie with the U18 AAA Caps (he was a teammate of Duguay's with the U16AAA Caps last year) is fully aware of where his time is best spent in practice.

"My transitioning and my edge work has to get better," said the blueliner who is hoping to build off a very solid year-end performance at the OHL Cup last spring. "Also, my speed with the puck - well, my whole game in general has to be faster, quicker."

That said, there are certainly some benefits from having played with a team in 2021-2022 that was a middle-of-the-pack squad (13W-12L-2OTL) in the newly redubbed Great North U18 AAA Hockey League.

"I think I know better what I will see on the other teams," said Thompson. "I'll know some of the players that I am playing against. I'll know what they are capable of and hopefully I will be able to shut down what I have seen before."

If the players are expected to show constant evolution, so too are the coaches. Marc Tardif makes a return to the team this year, serving as an assistant coach with son Parker part of the crew last year, but remaining aboard even as the family connection aged out of the U18 ranks.

"Players always say that it's a step up, but I found even for myself as a coach, it was a step up," said the long-time SMHA hockey mentor. "The game moves a lot faster, faster decisions have to be made."

"It always evolves; it was a good learning curve for me."

Part of the attraction for Tardif is the chance to return to the stomping grounds of his youth, born in Hearst and no stranger to all things Kapuskasing related. "I look forward to going back, to go and see family."

Working alongside coach Dickinson in his introduction to the GNU18AAAHL, Tardif is thankful that many of his beliefs with how the game should be played align nicely with what he has seen from his new partner-in-crime.

"Brian likes a puck possession team, so it's a matter of building up the confidence of the players, not only in keeping the puck more but also knowing where to put the puck, when they have to, so that we can go and get it back."

That process begins anew come September 7th when the U18 AAA Nickel Capitals kick off a series of five tryouts in six days with a 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p..m. session at their home rink.

SRWC - Chartered Professional Accountants