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Local teams open at Marlies Classic - NOBHL update

In an effort to provide a more consistent approach to offering coverage for the wide variety of sports that are highlighted on, we've decided to include a new feature. Bi-weekly divisional or league updates will offer a wide array of statistical tidbits, roster updates, tournament results for participating teams. The Northern Ontario AAA Bantam Hockey League will be featured every second Tuesday - next update is January 10th

Sault Thunder - European Excursion 2005

While the Christmas break provides many families the opportunity to sit and relax at home, perhaps taking in a little World Junior Hockey action, NOBHL teams are willing to hold that thought for some other year. In fact, not only will members of the Sault Thunder not be home on Boxing Day this year, they won't even be on their home continent.

A trip that has been two years in the making, the Thunder are off to Sweden and Finland to celebrate Christmas 2005, Scandanavian style. Team manager Matt Cavaliere explained recently that the overseas trek will run from December 26th until early January, with the team taking part in a tournament and a handful of exhibition hockey games during the holiday that is both a cultural and sporting venture.

"I would like to see the kids gain a different perspective on how hockey can be played and also see a different culture" notes Cavaliere, adding that the entire roster of boys will be billeted during their stay. Thunder head coach Ken Hruska has been a huge proponent of the trip since Day One and for good reason - a similar sojourn in his youth provided the experience of a lifetime.

"The memories have obviously stayed with me since 1974 and I thought it would be great to pass them on to my players and have them create their own memories" states Hruska. Playing opponents that are composed of nothing but 1991 players, the same as the Sault Ste Marie roster, will allow for a wide variety of games, according to Sault management.

"I believe we will have some very competitive games as well as some more relaxed type of games" said Hruska, while Cavaliere was quite excited to see how the Thunder would fare against the # 1 rated '91 team in Sweden. With a price tag of nearly sixty thousand dollars, it's clear that this venture could not have become a reality without a strong fundraising effort.

"The parents did an awesome job of fundraising" notes Cavaliere, acknowledging that the fundraising efforts began almost two years ago when the entire team first endorsed the idea of a European hockey holiday. While both Cavaliere and Hruska expect the players to face some adjustments from their customary Canadian lifestyle, the language barrier should not be one of them.

"My understanding is that the English is quite good in both Sweden and Finland" admits Cavaliere. Adopting a slogan that states "Experience Life Through Sports", the entire team entourage is understandably excited with this once in a lifetime experience. And there are some interesting side-notes as well.

One of the exhibition games in Finland will see the Thunder face a squad that many of the current Sault players had the opportunity to compete with at the Peewee age level while attending a tournament in Ottawa a few years back. With the Thunder still holding down first place in NOBHL standings and looking to represent the NOHA at the Bantam AAA provincial championships in Mississauga, the 2005-06 season is sure to be one to remember for the members of the Soo Thunder Bantam hockey team.

Marlboros Christmas Classic

The Sault Ste Marie clan will not be the only NOBHL contingent away from home this holiday season as both the Onaping Falls Huskies and Sudbury AAA Wolves make their way to Toronto as part of the 50-team Bantam division competing at the prestigious Toronto Marlboros International Holiday Classic.

After having missed out on participating in the Big Nickel Tournament in November, players and staff of the Huskies have been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to test their wares against the province's elite and day one action has the Levack crew off to a good start.

Coach Dave Berthelot and company opened tournament play with a 4-1 win over the Grey-Bruce Highlanders and will need to finish no worse than second in their division if they hope to nab one of the eight conference playoff berths available in the five-division grouping.

Onaping Falls will face the Buffalo Regals, Wexford Raiders and Clarington Toros over the next two days. The Wolves, meanwhile, have but a tie to show for their first two games after opening with a 2-2 draw against the Ajax-Pickering Raiders before falling 5-0 to the Dallas Alliance Bulldogs.

Still ahead on the schedule for the Wolves are the Brantford 99ers and Mississauga Rebels, with Big Nickel finalist Brampton Battalion and Mississauga Ice Dogs expected to be among the Major Bantam favourites to walk away with top honours. One other local squad competing, the Copper Cliff Minor Midget Redmen, opened with a 2-0 loss to the Waterloo Wolves as a lack of top-end goal scorers continues to plague the team.

Regular season Update

With the NOBHL limited to just five teams, it's not unusual in many years for a clear and distinct separation to occur between the five teams, with upsets rarely occuring as teams follow a somewhat obvious pecking order. The 2005-06 season has produced an element of that in the first half, as the Soo Thunder and Onaping Falls Huskies have lost points only to each other, with the Sooites currently holding a 5-2 edge in the season series.

While Sudbury has struggled against the top two, it appeared they were still a definate notch better than both Timmins and North Bay...until the final weekend of 2005 that is! Coming off a solid weekend series where the Wolves dropped three games to Onaping Falls by a very respectable total of just six goals, the locals came out flat in a pre-Christmas Northern swing, taking just one of six points against the Timmins Technosub Rangers.

Where it appeared that Timmins and the North Bay Hilltop Athletics might be limited to a battle for fourth place, the December showing by the Rangers against Sudbury suggests that the race for the third may not yet be a done deal, with Timmins and North Bay trailing the Wolves by seven and ten points respectively.

Timmins and North Bay open second half play with a critical three-game set in the Gateway City on January 14th and 15th while Sudbury will seek some revenge on the Rangers when Timmins pays a visit to the Nickel City at the end of the month. Onaping Falls also opens their second half with an important road trip, heading to Sault Ste Marie for their first three games of 2006. The NOBHL regular season wraps up on February 12th with Timmins paying a visit to the Thunder.

And finally, Onaping Falls forwards Nick Esposto and Jamie Haines continue their quest to become only the second Husky in league history to capture the NOBHL scoring title (current Kitchener Rangers' forward Yves Bastien was the first) as Esposto holds a four point edge over Brett Thompson of the Soo while Haines is ten points back.

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