It's already been duly noted this fall that not all of the 2008-born AAA hockey talent from Sudbury has remained in these parts to complete their OHL draft year (U16).
Apparently, that only serves as greater motivation for the 17 young men and women who are proudly emblazoned with the Wolves logo and are being led into battle this year by a former junior defenceman who is making his debut behind a AAA hockey bench during the 2023-2024 season.
With friend Greg Tymchuk, who worked with a number of these players towards the end of last season, at his side, Randy Koski decided to take the plunge - and by the time early September rolled around, the tandem had a pretty clear vision of the work that lie in store to start the new campaign.
"In August, we're just getting to know each other," said Koski, 51 years old and with no child on the team. "September is about systems: how we want to play in each end of the rink, our power play, our penalty kill."
"From there, we will build on consistent team play. At the end of the day, it's about learning to trust each other and learning to trust the system. Success generally follows after that."
It certainly hasn't taken much time at all to get the buy-in from the players.
"They are taking a good approach to the systems," said Mason Walker, one of several forwards who is likely to draw a good hard look from OHL scouts. "They want us to follow their lead and we're ready to do that."
"They have already given us work booklets and stuff to help us keep track of our systems."
Having played for a handful of different coaches, Walker noted a new twist this year - but not just because of the new face behind the bench.
"In the summer, we've never really worked out as a team before," he said. "I think everyone is working hard, everyone is excited. You can just feel that it's a bit more serious this year - and I love that."
In order to give the goaltending pair of Kalia Pharand and Kaitlyn Earl a fighting chance, there is no doubt this team will need to integrate a prioritization of defensive hockey as fundamental to their team play, a message that is apparently already being drilled home.
"In previous years, we would sometimes just wait for our defense to get the puck and then leave the zone," said Walker. "This year, it's very important to play defense first. We don't want goals scored on us and it all starts in our own end."
"I think we have a pretty good system to help defend our zone well."
Certainly a three game exhibition set this past weekend would give the group at very least a passing grade in terms of overall competitiveness out of the gate (perhaps a mark of "B"), with the Wolves posting a record of 1-1-1 down south.
The Sudbury reps opened with a 3-3 tie against the Toronto Red Wings as Ashton Pitawanakwat, Kaden Wicklander and Brett Moxam found the back of the net for the northern lads.
With limited rest time between games and some distance to cover between venues, the U16 AAA Wolves dropped a 5-3 decision in game two to the North Central Predators, with Lincoln Lachance scoring twice in a losing cause and Drake Taylor adding the other.
The locals broke into the win column on Sunday as a two-goal performance from Ashton Pitawanakwat helped power the team to a 5-3 triumph over the Grey-Bruce Highlanders, with Hudson Goulet, Dawson Morris and Noah Lafrance wrapping up the offense.
The end result should be plenty of valuable information for coach Koski based on his pre-weekend goals. "I would like to see where we stand - and the exhibition games will definitely help with that."
"It's going to prepare us for the end of September Toronto Titans Tournament. That's the focus for September."
Keenly aware of just how much is on the line for these teenagers, the man who appeared in a pair of games for the 1990-1991 Sudbury Wolves carries a very simple message into the dressing room, focused on eliminating as much of the expected stress as possible.
"We tell them we're their biggest fans," said Koski. "We're going to support them all year. The biggest thing for them is to focus on the process and not the outcome."
Rounding out the 2023-2024 team roster for the Sudbury U16 AAA Wolves are Denver Mulligan, Gerald Southwind, Grady Jalbert, Masimo Toffoli, William Wierzbicki and Jameson Fabbro.