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Copper Cliff Reds do the City proud - move on at Sudbury Silver Stick
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Sudbury and area teams competing at the local Silver Stick tournaments need not be quite so hospitable.

Not only did out of town entries claim three of the four banners up for grabs as a group of forty or so “A” teams gathered for the first of two weekend events (the “AA” teams are in town from December 1st to the 3rd), but they also swept all sides of the finalists berths outside the U15 A championship final.

In that one, a local winner was assured before puck even dropped as the Copper Cliff Reds took their undefeated record from Nickel District League play into the weekend, stringing together five more Silver Stick wins before edging the Nickel City Sons – White 2-1 in a teeth-clenching final.

“I would never say that we were expected to win,” noted Reds head coach Mike Sawyer, his team receiving first period goals from Evan Demarchi and Avery Grise-Cassivi before shutting things down defensively to earn their first ever trip to International Silver Stick come January 18th to the 22nd (2024) in Port Huron (MI).

“I would say that the opportunity was there and we knew that if we did the right things and trusted the work that we had put in, we knew that it was something that was a possibility.”

After averaging almost seven goals a game through their first five encounters, the Copper Cliff lads required a bit of a tactical adjustment come a gold medal affair that went right down to the final buzzer.

“When you are a strong team and you play with the puck a lot, you have to get used to playing without the puck when you get into those tight games on tournament Sundays,” suggested Sawyer. “Sometimes that’s not easy for the kids, just because they are not used to doing it.”

“It’s something we’ve been focusing on a lot, how to take care of things in our own zone, protecting the front of the net, the danger zone that where we don’t get exposed very often.”

With that in mind, the messaging from the coaching staff became clear, with the players executing the game plan to perfection, especially over the final two periods of play. “We had a real strong commitment to trying to prevent them from entering out zone to begin with,” said Sawyer.

“Our defense did extremely well all weekend keeping that gap tight through the neutral zone and taking away plays before they ever got into our zone. That combined with the back pressure our forwards were applying meant that it wasn’t way to gain entry into our zone. It’s hard for teams to score against us if they are not in our zone.”

While the trip to International Silver Stick is nice, Mike Sawyer is not among those who is necessarily thrilled with the local amalgamation of AAA hockey and the NOHA decision to run with open borders, even though he fully acknowledges that it does make his team stronger.

“I understand the desire to help teams compete at a tournament like this or end of the year provincials, but the flip side of that is that it’s taken away rep spots from players who maybe just finally have been able to progress to the point of cracking a rep lineup – only to be told a year later, through no fault of their own, that there are players coming down and those spots are now taken,” said Sawyer.

“I think there are better ways to make more spots available for kids to be in rep hockey or stay in rep hockey.”

For this year, however, the Reds U15 A crew that will head across the border in early 2024 includes Rylan Aube, Tomas Corsi, Evan Demarchi, Gordon Farrell, Avery Grise-Cassivi, Brady Holden, Dawson Kolodinski, Ryan Lewis, Keiran McCoy, Max O’Kane, Owen Olivier, Noah Palladino, Logan Sawyer, Bradon Schell, Aiden Scott-Thompson, Liam Speck, Chloe Trudeau and Rose Chétrit.

As close as their final was, the U15 can only lay claim to the second most exciting tournament wrap-up game as the Kapuskasing Icehawks and Porcupine Jr Gold Kings got right down to one on one overtime hockey before Luka Laberge lifted Kap to a 2-1 win in the U13 A gold medal game.

Logan Bodnariuk opened the scoring for the Gold Kings on an end to end rush, with Nathaniel Hueston drawing the Icehawks even early in the third. “We had all the confidence in the world that our kids were capable of winning this tournament,” noted Kapuskasing head coach Danny Rancourt, a man who has been involved with this group since their days of novice hockey.

“The key was to hold down the fort and focus on the basics: connecting passes, getting shots on net, crashing the net and trying to put it in.”

Mind you, when it came right down to it, coaching likely played a minimal role in the game-winning tally. “With four on four, three on three, you do have some tactics you can use,” said Rancourt. “But one on one, two on two, those are hard ones to play. You always want to go with speed and try and make sure you don’t cough up the puck.”

Another all-northern final for the U18 A contest as Chason Janiuk scored a pair of third period goals, allowing the Porcupine Gold Kings to double the Timmins Flyers 4-2 – despite the fact that the latter had gotten the better of the former in most every game leading up to this tournament – something that actually created a challenge for the Porcupine coaching staff.

“It was hard to get them prepared mentally for the game,” admitted trainer/coach Gord Wright. “We played them last night and won 5-1, so everyone came in a little more confident than usual.” Perhaps too confident, if one reads between the lines.

Goals by Evan Lauay and Reid Lessard of the Gold Kings were offset by counters from Ashton Morin and Nolan Dagg-Labine, the teams taking to the ice in the third deadlocked in a 2-2 tie.

“We just reminded them to keep working hard and things would work out,” said Wright. “I thought we were playing a little bit better (than Timmins), but we needed a bounce.”

The Kapuskasing U11 Icehawks clearly did not require any lucky bounces, earning their championship pins with a 5-1 win over the Sault Ste Marie Wings as Jax Vermette and Cade Audet netted two goals apiece, with Bastien Guertin adding the other while Ethan Sherlund managed to reply in a losing cause.

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