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Make it back to back provincial titles for the Sudbury U22 Rockhounds
2023-08-16
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As a lacrosse goaltender who would rise to the heights of a seven year veteran of the National Lacrosse League, earning a Minto Cup (Canadian Junior Lacrosse Championship) and appearing in the NLL all-star game along the way, Mike Miron knows a thing or two about the sport that he loves.

So when he suggests that the Sudbury U22 Rockhounds are special, one should listen.

Miron and assistant coach Dave Lachance recently guided the squad to a second straight OLA (Ontario Lacrosse Association) provincial crown, though this time around, it was the eight team "B" field in which the Sudbury reps would vanquish all challengers.

"We had a goal from the start of the season and that was to compete at a higher level to better our championship from last year," said Miron, his crew having claimed the OLA U22 Intermediate "C" banner this time last year.

"The foundation of this team is what brought this home: brotherhood, discipline, commitment to defense, goaltending and timely scoring."

The Rockhounds opened play at the Ontario playdowns in Whitby last week by playing to a 5-5 draw with the Hamilton Bengals, overcoming an early 2-0 deficit as they settle into what would become an impressive groove.

Their balanced attack was on full display, right from the start, as Ben Harris, Jack Gouchie, Ashton Eadie-Chartrand, Xavier Esquimaux-Osawamick and Alex Hachez all found the back of the net for the northern side.

From there, it was nothing by victories for the locals.

Jacob Barney scored twice as Sudbury netted three unanswered third period goals to break open a close affair and defeat the Orangeville Northmen by a final count of 7-3.

Joining Barney on the scoresheet for the winners were Xavier Esquimaux-Osawamick, Caden McDonald, Jacob Hickeron, Mason Lachance and Ben Harris.

The extra spark that helped push the Rockhounds through their playoff run could easily be traced back to their final round robin game, facing the eventual silver medallists in the form of the Akwasasne Storm.

Goals by Cody Wahl, Alex Hachez, Ben Harris and Jacob Hickerson had the Hounds deadlocked at four with the Storm as the seconds ticked off in the final minute of play.

"With a timeout called, I was drawing up a play with 32 seconds remaining," recalled Miron. "Dave Lachance (ass't coach) comes down the bench to let me know that a tie or a loss leaves us with the same outcome in the standings - but a win puts us in first place."

"With that, we decided to win and pulled our goalie," Miron continued. "With just over five seconds to play, Ashton Eadie takes the ball on a possession call and with a burst of speed up the floor, beating two defenders, he unleashed a laser of a shot on the run that beat the goalie low with just 0.62 seconds left in the game."

"It was one the smartest plays by an individual player that I have ever witnessed. To me, the catch by coach Dave and the game IQ that Ashton showed paved the way for our team going forward."

Well, that and the incredibly goaltending tandem of Kiaus Lalonde and Mason Robertson, the lads who would help backstop the team through two extremely tight playoff encounters.

The semi-final affair was as close checking as they come, the Rockhounds and Brampton Excelsiors scoreless through one period of play, with a strike from Nathan Dunne giving Brampton a 1-0 lead after two.

In typical Sudbury U22 Rockhounds' fashion, the GSLA entry battled their way back, knotting the contest at one courtesy of a the first goal of the tournament for Kai D'Amour (goaltender Kiaus Lalonde drew the assist) before Jacob Hickerson made Brampton pay on the power-play, drilling home the game-winning goal with just over four minutes remaining and his team up a man.

"In all of my years of playing and coaching, I have never seen a team with more heart," Miron confessed. "The composure of this team, being so young, is unheard of. Up a goal, down a goal, nothing fazed them."

"Their focus was unbelievable."

That would be key in a rematch with the Akwasasne Storm, the gold medal game pitting together two teams that had already produced one of the most dramatic encounters of the entire tournament.

In that sense, it surprised no one that the scoreboard was reading 2-2 heading into the final period of play with Joe Gouchie and Ashton Eadie-Chartrand accounting for the Sudbury offensive output.

In a penalty-filled contest, maintaining their cool would be key for the two-time champs who, for the second straight game, recorded the game-winning goal with the team on a man advantage, this one coming off the stick off Jacob Barney.

Jumping on the shift in momentum, Jack Gouchie would drill another nail into the coffin of the Storm, doubling the Sudbury lead just over a minute later as goalkeeper Mason Robertson held the fort early, allowing his team to get untracked offensively in walking off with a 4-2 victory.

The championship was clearly a testament to a complete team effort, one led largely by captain Ben Harris ("the glue of this team"), with ample support from assistant captains Ashton Eadie ("leading the offensive attack"), Mason Lachance ("commanding the defense") and Blake Ramalho ("steady physical presence").

"With not losing anyone to overage status (heading into 2024), this team has the work ethic and talent to do something special going forward," added Miron. "We are all so excited about it."

Rounding out the Sudbury U22 Rockhounds championship roster were Austin Arlt, Andrew Whitehouse, Keegan Esquimaux-Osawamick, Daniel Czerwinski and Max Vendette.

Two other GSLA rep teams also made their way to provincials this month.

The Sudbury U13 Rockhounds posted a record of 2-2 in a double round robin three team division, falling short on the tie-breaker of advancing to the playoffs after earning a split with both the Midland Titans (2-1; 0-11) and the North Perth Outlaws (3-8; 8-6) in "E" Division play.

The Sudbury U11 Rockhounds found themselves in Group 3 of the "B" Division bracket, opening play with a 6-2 win over the West Grey Rampage before falling to both the NOTL (Niagara-on-the-Lake) Thunderhawks (6-9) and the Lincoln Redcoats (2-3).

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