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Minor hockey opportunities to kickoff the new year
2024-01-02
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And so we turn the page to 2024, a 12-month stretch that lies ahead and still abounds with hope and anticipation and opportunities for so many involved with Sudbury sports.

For five local rep hockey teams, those opportunities will arrive sooner rather than later.

The quintet representing all three of the regional hockey associations that ice “A” and “AA” teams will be participating in International Silver Stick play either from January 14th to the 17th, or from the 18th to the 21st.

The initial troika – the Copper Cliff U15 A Reds, Sudbury U10 AA Wolves and Nickel City U15 AA Sons – were already cast in stone, each having emerged victorious from regional playdowns in November and December.

They will now be joined by the very deserving duo of the Nickel City U15 A Sons (White) and Sudbury U16 AA Wolves, both of whom were regional finalists and both boasting the type of early season resume that lends credence to their squads being more than competitive at the North American finals as tournament organizers looked to round out the fields.

Including the Sudbury Silver Stick tournament, the U16 AA Wolves have attended a total of four competitions in the first half of 2023-2024, reaching the final four on three of those weekends. In losing to the Barrie Colts in the gold medal game at (SS) regionals, the SMHA crew were doomed by a dreadful opening frame.

Trailing 3-0 after the first, the team then suffocated the Colts for the next period and a half, surrendering all of two shots against – but the die was cast as the Barrie netminder backstopped his team to a 4-1 win.

In the eyes of Wolves head coach Curtis Gilbert, the Sudbury Silver Stick encapsulated the two primary challenges his team faced to begin this year. “The nerves in the dressing room before that game were ridiculous,” he said. “We just did not have enough experience being in that position.”

But where the local entry may have fallen victim to a very segregated pool of talent in years gone by, the landscape entering the current campaign provides for a great deal more optimism in players and staff alike.

“I have three players I have coached for ten years or more; after that, it’s kind of a blend with half Nickel City kids and half Sudbury Minor kids,” said Gilbert. “Freedom of movement changed everything.”

“My goal with this group, which isn’t a group that has won a lot in the past, was to go to Sunday hockey.”

And now that they have done so a handful of times, building up some much needed confidence in the situation, there remains one other primary hurdle to overcome. “The biggest takeaway from the Silver Stick and other tournaments is the need to play three periods of hockey,” noted Gilbert.

“We were the better team is so many of those games for two periods. We have one lapse in one period, a five or ten minute lapse and it crushes us.”

This isn’t just a gut feeling that the product of the Great North Midget League who went on to suit up with the Sudbury Northern Wolves and Espanola Screaming Eagles of the NOJHL seems to have. It’s a message that he hears from his players.

“It’s coming from our leadership group,” said Gilbert. “I have very open lines of communication with my team. Having feedback is awesome because we are able to build that relationship that gives them some trust in us.”

The 2023-2024 edition of the Sudbury U16 AA Wolves features Leila Barsanti-May, Greyson Brewer-Case, Cooper Charyna, Mauro Cusinato, Vincent Gilbert, Karson Gouchie, Masa Innis, Liam Judd, Domenico Malafarina, Rowan McCann, Andrew McLean, Jackson Noble, Zachary Pelletier, Quinn Pigeau, Russell Ranger, Ryan Rinaldi and Xander Strojny.

During the same stretch of time that the U16 team is in Newmarket, they will have company in the form of the U10 AA Wolves, the crew that posted back to back Sunday shutouts (2-0 over Kanata; 4-0 over Soo Jr Greyhounds) to lay claim to the regional banner.

Coach Damir Brujic and company find themselves in Pool B along with the Burlington Eagles, Newmarket Renegades, Ottawa Valley Silver Seven and the Port Huron Flags, with five other entries (including the Kensington Valley Renegades from Michigan) all vying for international SS supremacy.

While the Nickel City U15 A Sons (White) will travel to Port Huron as the second local entry, joining Copper Cliff in making up two of the field of 16 teams, the mere fact that the local final went right down to the final buzzer, a 2-1 Reds victory in mid-November, speaks volumes of the ability of both groups to be in the mix later this month.

The Sons will be joined by the Collingwood Jr Blues, St Thomas Stars and the West Madison Polar Caps (Wisconsin) while Copper Cliff will go toe to toe with the Brantford 99ers, Woolwich Wildcats and Rockville MYHA Ice Devils (Maryland) in tournament play that kicks off two weeks from Thursday.

The 2023-2024 Nickel City U15 A Sons (White) are Jason Bentley, Marcus St George, Jayden Bretschneider, Alek Presley, Jake Drozdowsky, Dmitri Lavallee, Blake Lafleche, Evan Ouimet, Brycen Roussy, Dawson Dumont, Caleb Rocheleau, Ryerson Johnston, Caleb Larose, Blake Chenier, Alexandre Montpellier and goaltenders Noah Wilson and Bryce Zadorozniak.

Finally, the Nickel City U15 AA Sons team, which needed an overtime tally from Tyler Huffman to edge the Cumberland Jr Grads just a month ago will also be in Port Huron, part of a very diverse 16-team grouping that sees them facing the Mid-State Mustangs from Pennsylvania, the Oakland Junior Grizzlies from Michigan and the Toronto Aeros.

Remaining qualifiers encompass youngsters with the Nebraska Warbirds, Houston Junior Areos, Santa Clarita Flyers (California) and the Raleigh Raptors. One can hardly blame the local quintet for looking towards their upcoming opportunities with a great deal of excitement.

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