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Another Nickel City team to shine the spotlight upon
2023-04-15

The U12 year might not be an all-Ontario year when it comes to AAA hockey in the province, but that does nothing to detract from the outstanding campaign that was experienced by the Nickel City U12 AAA Sons.

After going back and forth with the Soo Jr Greyhounds for much of the NOHL (Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League) schedule, the Sons survived a semi-final scare in the morning, coming from behind to edge the North Bay Trappers 3-2 before completely overwhelming the Hounds, 8-0, in the NOHA final.

For head coach Joey Talbot, assistant coach Vagelli Sakellaris and the remainder of the team staff, there was as much to draw at the "big picture" level as from the icing on the cake that was the gold medal game.

"These kids had not seen a clean year of hockey before this year," said Talbot, a native of Wahnapitae who buried no less than 107 OHL goals during his four year career with the Ottawa 67's, making pro hockey stops in Alaska, England, Peoria and Atlantic City (not in that order) before returning home.

"They were really behind the eight ball because of Covid. They did not see any true hockey until their U11 AA season (2021-2022)."

Winning eight of their 12 head to head matchups with Sault Ste Marie between September and March, Nickel City was likely favoured, at least a little - though coaches and players alike recognized the championship banner was anything but a sure thing.

"We had to pass a lot and work as a team, get shots low," said Jonny Croome, an 11 year old grade six student at St Paul the Apostle in Coniston. "We knew that we had to get it to the net and all of that sort of stuff."

After battling through a Trappers team that improved each and every week of the year (the Sons took 11 of 12 games - but their loss came in their third last encounter in February), the Nickel City crew came out guns a blazing against the Greyhounds.

Greyson MacKenzie paced the Sons' attack with a four goal effort, joined on the scoresheet by Sam Frappier, Coen Chrétien, Shean Gray and Camden Poirier while Max Barros was a wall between the pipes in the 8-0 win.

"Everyone worked hard and played together and we got on a roll and kept flowing with it," said Croome. "That was one of our best wins of the year."

The team, which incorporated a core of talent from both the Nickel City Jr Sons and Sudbury Timberwolves U11 AA squads from the previous year, deserved to be given a little time to meld former on-ice rivals into a cohesive unit capable of playing with the very best AAA teams in the province.

"At the start of the year, we didn't pass as much or talk as much," conceded 12 year old defenceman Myles Talbot. "At the end of the year, we communicated and passed a lot more. A lot of people did not know each other to start."

"It was weird to play with them instead of against them."

Though his father excelled as a forward, the grade six classmate of teammate Jonny Croome takes a slightly different outlook on where exactly he can most impact the game. "You don't need to score a lot; you just need to stop the other guys from scoring," suggested Talbot, commenting on his choice of positions.

"If you are fast enough, you try and match the speed of their forwards and keep your stick out so that they don't get right past you."

Come Sunday afternoon, the Sons could not have done a whole lot better, on either side of the puck, as they closed off the year in style.

"I thought we were the team to beat going into the playoffs," stated coach Talbot. "That was kind of the message to the kids. We had some adversity going through (the Sons dropped both of their round robin playoff games to the Soo - 4-3 and 5-4) and I think that helped us out on Sunday."

"They probably played their best game of the year in that final, so I was pretty proud."

Rounding out the 2022-2023 roster for the Nickel City U12 AAA Sons are André Beaudry, Brayden Bouillon, Blake Bubalo, Padraig Courtney, Maximus Falcioni, Ryder Penny, Van Sakellaris, Max Thompson, Zachary Tyson and Jonathan Valade.

Sudbury Wolves