From January 16th to the 26th, there will be an 11-day break in the Great North U18 AAA League schedule - but there's no rest at all for the eight teams in the loop this year.
The entire northern octet will be in Peterborough this coming weekend, site of the Steve Richey Memorial Tournament of Champions, an event that is bringing together no less than 20 U16 AAA teams and another 33 in the U18 AAA bracket.
The Soo U18 Jr Greyhounds will enter on a high, having completed their two-game sweep in Sudbury last weekend with a solid 4-1 victory Saturday afternoon in Copper Cliff over the Sudbury U16 AAA Nickel Capitals.
A pair of goals by Deven Jones McDonald and solo markers from both Cole Cond and Harley Wardell helped the Hounds improve to 16-2-0-0, ten points clear of both the North Bay U18 Trappers and the Timmins Majors, the only two teams to beat them this year.
As for the local U16 crew, there was likely some comfort in remaining competitive in a battle with the elders, the first time the teams have met this winter and therefore the first time that Sault Ste Marie native Coulson Bell has faced many former friends and teammates.
"It was different playing against all those people; it was tough," said the 15 year old who is attending St Benedict Catholic Secondary School during his time in Sudbury. "They're a good team. It was tough not letting them get in my head."
"They've got a lot of skill, crisp passes, very good passes - and their systems are very good," Bell added.
In the end, the thought of playing against his hometown team was likely a little more of a hurdle than necessarily facing some opponents born a year earlier than he was (2007).
"You have to be a little tougher, but getting to this age, I think it tends to even out a lot more," suggested Bell. Cameron Vehkala netted the only Sudbury goal, pulling him even with Bell at five - though the latter noted that this remains a primary focus as the 2022-2023 season winds down.
"I'm getting a lot of chances but I definitely need to bury my chances more," said Bell. "I think I'm doing well on the hustle and all that, but I definitely have to bury my chances."
The Jr Greyhounds did that in spades on Friday night, blanking the Sudbury U18 AAA Nickel Capitals 6-0 as Brendan Cooke paced the Sault Ste Marie attack with a three-goal effort. Declan Gallivan, Candon O'Neill and Hudson Chitaroni also found the back of the net for the visitors, with Nathan Maguire recording the shutout.
His goaltending partner, Maverick Fletcher from Sudbury, continues to show the way in most of the statistical netminding categories, his goals against average of 1.20 ahead of both Michael McIvor from North Bay (1.64) as well as Maguire, at 2.08.
The Peterborough tournament schedule will see the U16 Nickel Caps meeting up with the Grey Bruce Highlanders, Peterborough Petes, Hamilton Huskies and Burlington Eagles while coach Brian Dickinson and the U18 lads tangle with Peterborough as well as the North York Rangers, OHA (Ontario Hockey Academy) White and Elgin Middlesex Canucks.
Both local teams resume league play on January 28th and 29th, the draft eligible squad making a return visit to Sault Ste Marie while the U18 reps welcome the North Bay U16 AAA Trappers to town.