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All-Ontario AAA silver again for the Sons
2023-04-20
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One has to go back to the 1969-1970 minor hockey season and only the third time that the All-Ontario Peewee AAA Championships were being contested to find the one and only time that Sudbury has struck gold at the event.

Since then, the likes of the Toronto Jr Canadiens, Toronto Marlboros and Toronto Red Wings have dotted the winners’ list with some regularity, with nary a representative from Northern Ontario to be found (Thunder Bay did claim gold as well in 1975 - but that's Northwestern Ontario).

That was the back story as the Nickel City U13 AAA Sons found their way to the championship final last Sunday in Thunder Bay, mere hours after tournament MVP and leading scorer Dacey Dupuis had jammed home the rebound of a shot from teammate Seth Verbiwski more than ten minutes into the second period of overtime, lifting the Sons to a 2-1 win over the Sun County Panthers in the semi-final affair.

Sure, the gold medal encounter with the undefeated Markham Majors did not go their way, but the silver medal performance by the Sons marks the first such finish since the 2016 Sons dropped a 5-3 decision to the powerhouse Don Mills Flyers at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, with the 2013 Sons matching that performance with a 6-4 loss to the Mississauga Rebels.

“It was a total team effort, from start to finish,” stated Nickel City head coach Corey Crane. “Our team worked hard, all week long, stuck to the game plan and they were tenacious on the forecheck. Our forecheck caused a lot of turnovers and created a lot of offense in turn. There were games where we did it almost to perfection.”

Second place was not the end goal, but it was a pretty darned good performance, overall, as Crane reminded his team after the final buzzer sounded. “Yes, it’s a tough loss at the end of the weekend – but you can take pretty much any AAA player in Ontario and they would switch in a heartbeat to be in your position,” Crane noted.

The Sons opened play guns a blazing, blasting the Kenora Thistles 10-0 in game one as Dacey Dupuis, Seth Verbiwski and Preston Hebert all scored two goals apiece, with Cooper Niquet, Owen Angus, Greyson Hnatiuk and Jackson Mead finding the back of the net once each.

The closeness of the Sons – Panthers rivalry was foreshadowed on day two as Nickel City and Sun County played to a 2-2 draw, with Dacey Dupuis handling all of the scoring for the locals. Later than night, the Sons bounced the host Thunder Bay Kings 7-4 as Cooper Niquet paced the attack with a pair of markers while Ty Belanger, Owen Angus, Greyson Hnatiuk, Dacey Dupuis and Ezio Cusinato chipped in with one strike apiece.

The Sons remained undefeated in game four, tripling the Whitby Wildcats 6-2 on goals from Ty Belanger (2), Cooper Niquet, Dacey Dupuis, Seth Verbiwski and Ryan Thompson, suffering their first loss the next morning against the Ottawa Valley Titans. The teams were tied at two with less than two minutes to play when the Titans broke through, taking the contest 4-2 as Cooper Niquet and Dacey Dupuis answered in a losing cause.

Again, the Sons went toe to toe with the very best in the province, closing out round robin play with a 5-3 loss to the Markham Majors in a game in which the teams sat deadlocked at 3-3 from the end of period one through to the final four minutes of play. Seth Verbiwski scored twice for Nickel City, with Cooper Niquet adding the remaining snipe.

In the end, Crane and company were thrilled with the overall takeaway that his newly-formed squad experienced. “This was the first year that a lot of these guys played together,” he said. “Getting that team bonding experience and being able to rely on each other and being able to play in that kind of a pressure situation is huge.”

"They have never played in games like this, not at this caliber.”

Rounding out the 2022-2023 Nickel City U13 AAA Sons lineup were Tayden Smith, Nick Christakos, Bradley Huffman, Malik Jakubo, Whitney Basso, Ty Imbeau and Nicolas Rocca.

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