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Cracking an OHL roster is the next step for these teens

Pretty much every single day, at this time of year, young local hockey talent chomping at the bit to take the next step in their career can be found on the double ice pads of the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex.

In fact, there's a regular crew just hoping to see the numbers of Sudbury based talent competing in the OHL grow notably this year. A ninth round selection of the North Bay Battalion in 2016, defenceman Jordan Spadafore has put himself in the mix thanks to a very solid 2016-2017 season with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians of the NOJHL.

Registering a goal and fifteen assists while suiting up in 47 games for the local juniors, Spadafore looked completely comfortable by the time the post-season rolled around, chalking up another four assists in seven games, while limiting his PIMs to just a single minor penalty.

"I feel more mature now, I've got a year of junior experience," said the Nickel City product who celebrated his 17th birthday on August 19th. "I feel I can hold my own now against older players."

"I've been working with a skating coach here in town, and I think I've developed my skating a lot. And my discipline is better. In the playoffs, I only had one penalty, and I was playing good minutes."

Spadafore is hoping to crack the roster of one of just two Eastern Conference teams not to make the OHL playoffs last spring. He might not be oblivious to be battles that are shaping up at camp, but he tries hard not to dwell on them.

"I look at who is leaving and who is not," Spadafore admitted. "But you try and go into camp ready to work, and don't worry about that stuff. Worry about what you can control, what you have to do."

A teammate in Rayside and also from their minor midget "AAA" year, Iroquois Falls native Chad Denault might have a leg up on some of the other local hopefuls, having played in six games with the Peterborough Petes last year.

Even more important, the 2016 third round pick signed his standard OHL player agreement with the Petes last October, mixed in with his season in the NOJHL where he racked up 36 points in 46 games. Still, he knows that at this level, nothing comes easy.

"The level of comfort is a lot higher than it was in my first camp," said the 6'1" 17 year-old forward. "As a 16 year-old, you're kind of nervous, out with the older guys. Getting the experience I did over the past year was good for me."

As for the specifics of his training camp game, there is a little more emphasis on the finer details of his craft. "You've got to stick to the basics, but make a few small adjustments," he said. "Finishing every check, playing smarter hockey, getting in the shooting lanes in the defensive zone, making quicker plays, nothing too fancy."

"The game is so fast, nowadays, that fancy plays are tough to make. Guys will read that, no problem. Just keep it simple and play my game." From the sounds of things, a spot on the team is his to lose.

"From what they've told me, that's the mindset that I have, that I'm going to be a Peterborough Pete this year and there's no doubt about it." Christian Gaudreau cannot afford to be quite that confident. A ninth round selection in 2016, Gaudreau will make his second training camp appearance with a Sudbury Wolves team that can return every single forward from last year, with the exception of C.J. Yakimowicz.

If there is a silver lining, it might lie in the hiring of new head coach Cory Stillman, who enters the frey with a completely clean slate. "I have to just focus on my game, working hard, getting into the dirty areas, make sure I get the puck out as a winger," said the 16 year-old Valley East native who amassed 42 points last year for the French River Rapids.

"I think it's good, with the new coach. It gives me another chance to impress somebody new. He hasn't seen me play before, so he doesn't know what I have to offer. I'm going to have to go out there and show him what I've got."

Being part of a French River team that won just three times in 56 games was no walk in the park, though Gaudreau was not complaining. "I got a lot of ice time, because our team wasn't the best," he said. "I did get a lot better, personally."

"Obviously, it was a little rough, losing a lot, but it made me better as a hockey player. It made me stronger, faster, reacting to the puck a lot more quickly." Forward Joe Mazur can tap into the combined knowledge of the above-noted trio with whom he shares the ice, given that he will be attending his first OHL camp later this month, a 7th round pick of the Sudbury Wolves this past April.

"I had talked to Sudbury a lot, talked to (scout) Jeff Forsyth," said Mazur. "But on draft day, you just never know where you're going to go." And from the sound of things, the 6'0 200 pound native of Levack is prepared to take it all in come September 1st.

"I want to go out and have fun, treat it as a really good experience," he stated. "Even if I don't make it this year, then I can come out next year with some experience." As for the skill-set that he brings to the table, Mazur is hopeful that there is more than initially met the eyes of Sudbury scouts, even eight months ago.

"My skating has improved over the summer," he said. "Hopefully, I can surprise them in training camp. They notice my shot, my size, but I'm a good playmaker, really smart with the puck."

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