The move, a few years back, to a single weekend tournament-style playoff format for the Great North U18 AAA League was almost certainly going to add a greater degree of excitement to the mix, given the increased uncertainty that comes with single game showdowns.
To an extent, the Sudbury U18 AAA Nickel Capitals benefitted from this last weekend in Sault Ste Marie.
The North Bay U18 AAA Trappers, however, benefitted even more.
After finishing fifth in league play following a second half surge, the Sudbury U18 lads recorded victories in two of their three round robin games, earning a semi-final berth opposite the above-noted Trappers.
Unfortunately, after opening the scoring courtesy of an early strike from Tyler Thompson, the Nickel Caps could not contain the North Bay response as the crew that would go on to upset the Soo Jr Greyhounds in a wild 8-5 final quickly flexed their offensive muscle.
The Trappers came back with goals from Anthony Boyes, Heath Bradley, Cayden Kowal, Nate Gravelle and Boyes, with his second, grabbing a 5-1 lead by the end of the first and cruising to a 7-2 win.
Caleb Dawson and Josh Currie closed off the offense for the winners while Bryson Smith netted the second Sudbury goal, who bounced back from a 7-1 loss to the Greyhounds on Thursday morning, beating both the Timmins Majors (3-0) and North Bay U16 AAA Trappers (6-1) to earn their spot in the final four.
The change in format noted above had the Sudbury lads feeling a tad more optimistic as they practiced in Coniston last week before leaving for the Sault.
"It's not great for the top ranked teams; one bad game and you're out," noted Sudbury captain Kohen Crane. "For the lower ranked teams, it's a great opportunity."
For the most part, the U18 AAA Nickel Capitals continued to play better than they had in the first half of the year - though the return of both Noah Kohen and Carson Crane from the Greater Sudbury Cubs certainly helped.
"And I find that we are just burying our chances a lot more," said Kohen Crane. "At the beginning of the year, we really weren't scoring that many goals."
Making the jump from the U16 AAA Nickel Caps one year ago, speedy forward Lucas Antonioni touched on at least one area of the game that Sudbury needed to focus on as the GNML playoffs kicked off.
"I think a main focus for us is discipline," said Antonioni, his team paying attention for at least one game as the locals were assessed only two minor penalties, in total, in their shutout win over Timmins.
"We have a strong urge to get unwanted penalties. Our penalty kill is really good - but sometimes teams will capitalize."
As for his decision to join the team this year, Antonioni suggested that the squad under the stewardship of head coach Brian Dickinson was simply to right fit that would allow him to continue his progress on the ice.
"It's nicer staying at home and I think I can develop more as a hockey player," said the 16 year old grade 11 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. "I'm not the biggest person, so I do have to work on the strength, especially playing against bigger opponents, and continue to work on getting better chances to score."
Scoring was certainly not an issue in the final as North Bay was up 2-1 after one and 6-3 after two, holding on against a Hounds team that finished ten points up at the end of regular season play.
Johnny Couch and Heath Bradley scored twice each to lead the way for the U18 Trappers, with Josh Currie, Nate Gravelle, Grayson Bradley and Anthony Boyes adding one marker each. Brendan Cooke (2), Gabe Palumbo, Cole Cond and Callum McAuley replied in a losing cause.
The Sudbury U16 AAA Nickel Capitals went 0-3 on the weekend, falling to the North Bay U18 Trappers (6-0), the Kapuskasing Flyers (6-2) and te New Liskeard Cubs (4-1) with a less than full-force lineup.
The North Bay crew which garnered national media attention when their bus burned to the ground on a return road trip earlier this year will now prepare for the Central Region U18 AAA playdowns in Windsor from April 3rd to the 9th.