Sure, the Great North Midget League kicked things off on the local playoff hockey front, as the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves, Soo Greyhounds and Kapuskasing Flyers all safely navigated their way through first round matchups last weekend, joining the North Bay Trappers in the GNML semi-finals.
But truth be told, that was just the opening of the dam, as the post-season floodgates will soon overwhelm almost every arena in the city.
Major Bantam “AAA” action will see the Soo Thunder and Nickel City Sons facing off in games one and two of their best of five semi-final series this weekend in Levack, with game times slated for 6:00 p.m. (Saturday) and 11:00 a.m. (Sunday).
Coach Rod Mackenzie directs a balanced offense that features Justin Dauphinais (61 pts), Hunter Brazier (56), Chase Lammi (42) and Giordano Biondi (39), with the blue-line brigade anchored by the towering presence of both Deric Charbonneau and Spenser Dickson.
Goaltenders Owen Kilganon and Alex Rheaume will provide a final line of defense, one that is sure to be tested should the Sons advance to their expected championship final date with the North Bay Trappers, the very same team they have faced in an NOHA gold medal encounter in each of the past three years.
For hockey fans looking for an advance preview of some potential 2018 OHL Entry Draft talent, the North Bay – Nickel City tilt offers some definite possibilities, both in terms of the Sons who have already been mentioned, and the Trappers duo of Pacey Schlueting and Joseph Jordan.
Meanwhile, the Minor Bantam “AAA” Sons are waiting patiently on the sideline, having clinched first place with ease several weeks ago. With a season record of 25-1-0, coach Chris McInnis and the boys are expected to breeze their way through their eventual opponent in the final, with the Soo Greyhounds (2nd place – 10-15-1) battling the North Bay Trappers (3rd place – 3-22-1) in the three team loop.
As has been noted here before, most in the local hockey community acknowledge that the core of talent within the 2003-born Nickel City roster rivals that of the 2015-2016 Sudbury Minor Midget Wolves that produced a nice chunk of OHL draftees.
While it is difficult to read too much into the stats in a miniaturized lopsided league, suffice to note that the Sons swept the top five slots in the scoring race, and ten of the first 11 placings with the grouping of Max McCue (47), Zacharie Giroux (46), Alex Antoine (36), Mitchell Martin (33), Ethan Marois (31), Bradey Smith (29), Bradley Brunet (27), Devon Savignac (26), Jacob Gaudet (23) and Josh Kavanagh (22).
As impressive as this team is offensively, a rearguard contingent that is led by Kavanagh, Marco Vigna and Brandon Hass has also caught the attention of local scouts, while puckstoppers Jake Marois and Patrick Boivin truthfully need to wait until tournament play to really strut their stuff.
While there is no denying the dominance of the Soo Greyhounds (27-1-0) at the major peewee level, the first round series that pits the Nickel City Sons (18-8-2) and North Bay Trappers (16-10-2) promises to be a beauty.
Coach Trevor Blanchard returns behind the bench to mentor a squad that features defenceman Wilson Farrow as the team’s leading scorer, with 39 points in 28 games. Captain “Scooter” Rienguette and fellow forwards Vincent Lavoie, Brayden Lafrance, Ryan Rubic and Cameron Shanks will all be looked upon to provide timely scoring, with all having reached the double digit goal plateau.
Goaltender Noah Beaulne led the league with five shutouts this year, as the Sons first try to overcome the Trappers before tackling the hefty challenge of closing the gap with the Sault in the final, assuming they make it that far.
Without a doubt, the most intense of the local “AAA” rivalries comes courtesy of the Minor Peewee age bracket, with the coaching staffs of both the Sudbury Wolves and Nickel City Sons making little effort to restrain their disdain for their respective cross-town rivals.
And while coach Chris Fillator and the Sons have generally held the upper hand in this battle of 2005-born youngsters over the years, sitting second to the Sault with a record of 13-5-2, the more recent head to head confrontations have grown increasingly closer with the Sudbury crew.
Everyone knows that it’s still way too early to try and determine which young boys and girls will continue to show a climb in their development, to the point of being noticed three to four years down the road.
Still, it will be fun to see just how the likes of Billy Biedermann, Alex Pharand, Noah Kohan and goaltender Logan Carr progress for the Sons, with coach Jeff Forsyth and the Sudbury staff overseeing the evolution of Sam McCue, Dominic Morris, Brandon Roney and Jack Campbell, among others.
Full dates and times of all of the upcoming NOHL listings can be found on the league website at http://www.hometeamsonline.com/teams/?u=NOHLAAA&s=hockey.