The absence of sport these past few years affected not only those who compete at the highest of levels.
Judging by the smiles permeating all across the site that is the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex this past weekend, kids involved with the Sudbury Playground Hockey League (SPHL) are every bit as thankful as the AAA players to experience the return of games and tournaments.
In fact, for as much as Lo-Ellen Lightning bantam defenseman Bennett Pafford appreciated the opportunity to celebrate with his teammates following a 3-0 win over the Algonquin Hawks in the final, he was just as quick to pass along his thanks to the volunteers and organizers who made the first Police Cup hosted since 2020 a reality these past few days.
It’s small wonder, given his commitment to the SPHL.
“I’ve been playing since Mickey Mouse, since I was maybe five or six years old,” said the 15 year-old student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. “I’ve been playing for Lo-Ellen for pretty much my entire life.”
“The competition is more advanced now and the players are getting better and better,” Pafford continued. “I’m meeting new teammates, new coaches with the change of division.”
Goals by Mac Young, Anderson Traynor and Hudson Duhaime were more than enough to support the goaltending abilities of Grayson Boeswald, who registered his second straight shutout in the gold medal encounter.
In fact, the Lightning did a whole lot well throughout their run of five straight victories. “We had great goaltending and we hustled and never gave up,” said Pafford. “We were forechecking and backchecking and we had really good goals too. We were working as a team. All of our goals were off great passing.”
All of which plays to the identity of the team, one that Pafford and company have embraced whole heartedly. “At Lo-Ellen, it’s all about teamwork,” he said. “We play as a team and work hard. That’s what our mojo is.”
Of course, when it comes to mojo and commitment to the SPHL and the causes they support, few can come close to matching the efforts of nine year MacLeod Public School student Lance Grigsby.
The super friendly youngster single-handedly would contribute $400 (of the $2320 that was raised in total) and some 311 food donations (the SPHL filled 30 large bins over the weekend; 4450 pounds worth an estimated $15,247.50 - according to Food Bank E.D. Dan Xilon) as the Police Cup served, once again, as a chance to help re-stock the cupboards of the Sudbury Food Bank.
“I kind of thought of maybe doing my street and my neighbourhood,” said Grigsby, explaining his plan of action as he canvassed donations door to door. “And then I thought maybe pick one street in Lo-Ellen and do that whole street.”
“I ended up doing eight streets,” he added. “I was doing it every day, for an hour or maybe a half an hour and I ended up with all of those hours and half an hours, I would have been out for six hours.”
While the goal was clearly to collect non-perishable food items, Grigsby had his own thoughts as to why the cash donations were so prevalent – and appreciated. “The first street that I did, they gave me mostly money because they saw that I had nothing to put all the food in,” he suggested.
“But all the other streets after that were mostly food and cans.”
In the end, it was enough to rank his Lo-Ellen novice team as the second top collector, squeezed between the Cedar Park tykes and the Westmount novices.
On the ice, Grigsby and company fell just one goal short of winning it all as Dominic Whynott recorded a second straight hat-trick, leading Algonquin over the Lightning 6-5. Owais Sambo countered with a five goal effort in a losing cause.
In Atom play, it would take a three on three overtime session to decide matters as the McFarlane Lake Lakers edged Algonquin 5-4, with Jayden Barnes pulling the trigger for the game-winning goal.
Deklerc Vilgren scored three times in the semi-finals to help McFarlane Lake slip past the Cedar Park Red Wings 4-3 while two goal efforts from both Levi Frawley and Jaxon Lewis allowed Algonquin to get the better of Lo-Ellen by a final count of 5-2 in the remaining final four matchup.
Finally, in peewee play, the Kivi Park Thunder were riding an undefeated 4-0 run into the final when they came face to face with a highly motivated Lo-Ellen Park Lightning squad. The latter would jump out to a 2-0 lead before Kivi clawed back, creating deadlocks at both 2-2 and 3-3 with minutes ticking off the clock.
But with just 88 seconds remaining, Matthew Healy drilled home the go-ahead goal, Bennett Timmers provided some insurance and Ben Lamarche potted his second of the game as Kivi Park doubled Lo-Ellen 6-3.
Given their unbeaten status going into the game, one could understand the Thunder being thrown off by the early adversity. A veteran of SPHL hockey for some four to five years, Lamarche suggested they had a few different ways of combating any doubts. “We knew we could come back at the start because it was only the first (period),” noted the 13 year-old grade 8 student at St James in Lively.
“Our coaches encouraged us and we cheered each other on. I think that’s what really helped us come back in the game.”
The infusion of offense is a welcome change for Lamarche, who had played as a blueliner every year until this fall – not that the change necessarily came easy. “I think the hardest thing was just getting used to it,” he said. “When I first started, I was staying a little too far back, playing more defense than offense.”
“As I got used to playing centre, I started to play more offense and started to get better, I think.”