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Jr Sons on the road for OHF Championship weekend
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The 2022-2023 hockey season has already been a very special one for members of the Nickel City U13 AA Jr Sons.

The hope now is simply that a memorable performance at the 2023 OHF (Ontario Hockey Federation) Championships in Barrie this weekend might provide some nice icing on the cake.

Although their Nickel District Minor Hockey League opponents showed some improvement over the course of the winter, it wasn't a 20-0-0 regular season record that will most prepare the Jr Sons for what they are about to face in a five-team field that features some of the top teams in the province.

"This is pretty similar to the (International) Silver Stick," suggested forward Bryston Nixon. "There's lot of nerves flying around - but I think that we're more prepared for this. We know what it's like to go into a high stakes tournament."

Back in January in Port Huron, the Jr Sons posted a 2-2 record, squeezing in a 4-1 win over the California Bears between losses to the Mississauga Terriers (4-3) and Hyland Hills Jaguars (8-0) in pool play before closing off the event with a 3-1 win over the Texas Tigers in a consolation encounter.

"We weren't really tested before the Silver Stick," noted head coach Kevin O'Shaughnessy. "We had played only one tournament. Overall, we are prepared more, physically and mentally now."

Even as the OHFs were approaching, Nixon and his mates could feel the difference as they gathered to prepare for their first ever trek to the playdown that also features the host Barrie Jr Colts, Stratford Warriors, Tecumseh-Shoreline Eagles and the Mississauga Terriers.

"The practices are a lot more intense," said Nixon, an extremely articulate 13 year-old grade seven student at Bishop Alexander Carter in Hanmer. "We're working on very specific things to try and better our odds for the OHFs."

"We're working on battles, being hard on the puck and being as relentless as possible."

A solid understanding of two-play as positioned the Nickel City team well as they look to get through to the semi-final matchups on Sunday morning.

"When I was younger, all I wanted to do was score goals," said Nixon. "Defense came later. I know now that defense is probably a little bit more important. I usually am the third guy in our zone (he's a centre) and I try and get the puck to a safe place on the ice so that we can eventually get it into the neutral zone."

If Nixon sounds like a thinking man's player, that suits coach O'Shaughnessy just fine - given that he seldom sees hockey as being particularly black and white.

"Hockey is always fluid, it's always dynamic," noted the coach. "You can practice as many breakouts as you want, but in a game, it doesn't always happen that way. I try and encourage the players to try new things, try something different."

Built around a core of talent that were part of the Nickel City U12 AA Jr Sons teams last year, O'Shaughnessy has witnessed some very encouraging growth from his very special group of youngsters.

"At the start of the year, we were more of an individual team - and we've adapted to become more team oriented," he said. "You look at our scoring: at the start of the year, we had three or four guys that would contribute all the time."

"Now, there are a lot more players who are getting on the scoresheet."

That balance on the attack was evident as Nickel City opened the tournament Friday morning with an 8-1 win over Tecumseh-Shoreline, with six different players finding the back of the net.

Mason Hampel and Bryston Nixon scored twice each, with Chase Baronette, Alex Proulx, Logan O'Shaughnessy and Lennox Therrien also chipping in on the attack.

Rounding out the roster for the team are Brayden Baronette, Noah Barriault, Luca Boucher, Nicolas Chamberland, Ethan Farquharson, Ethan Gallagher, Jackson Leveille, Merik Maillet, Reid Martin, Braeden Thibault and Dean Vildis.

Joining Kevin O'Shaughnessy on the team staff are assistant coaches Sean Gallagher and Ryan Proulx, trainer Gilles Thibault and team manager Pamela Therrien.

Joining the U13 AA Jr Sons in OHF action this weekend are the Nickel City U15 A Jr Sons, who also got things started on a winning note, downing the Chapleau Huskies 4-1 on Friday.

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