It would have been difficult to comfortably refer to the Nickel City Major Peewee “AAA” Sons as favourites when play began in Timmins last month, the city hosting an in-house tournament aimed to determine the Northern Ontario “AAA” Hockey League representative at the upcoming Ontario Winter Games in Orillia (March 1st to 4th).
Sure, the Sons were in the thick of the race at the top of the NOHL divisional standings, right there with the North Bay Trappers and, to a lesser extent, the Timmins North Stars and Sudbury Wolves. While the locals may have opened their season with an eight game unbeaten string (6 wins and 2 ties), they had gone winless in a three game set in North Bay just a month earlier, losing twice before playing to a 4-4 draw.
They had endured upset losses at the hands of both the Wolves and Soo Greyhounds, in league play, and were felled 8-5 by the Trappers during the round robin portion of the December Showcase tournament. In fact, Nickel City trailed 3-1 late in the second period of the championship encounter, their backs clearly against the wall.
Not that any additional challenges were necessary, but the team was also without no less than four regulars, down with injuries at the time. A goal by Cohen Arsenault with exactly one minute remaining in the middle stanza provided a spark, one that would lead to a game-tying marker from Alex Chartier early in period three.
The score remained deadlocked at 3-3, with under a minute remaining. “I was lining up for the faceoff in our end,” recalled Arsenault. “Our defense (Brady Bouchard) got it behind the net and passed it up to me on my wing. All of a sudden, it was a two on one.”
“I passed it to my other winger skating up (Reid Lafrance). He took a shot off the pad and it came to me, right on my stick, and I just tapped it in. I think it was the biggest goal I’ve scored so far. We were so excited.” Thirty five seconds were displayed on the scoreboard when Arsenault propelled his team to the tournament they are about to enjoy in less than two months.
With the Ontario Winter Games scheduled to take place every second year – the 2016 Games were scrapped completely when no municipality submitted a bid to host the event – it’s clear that not every athlete will benefit from the proper timing that even aligns with a possibility to take part.
The irony of the “right place at the right time” concept is not at all lost on Bouchard, a native of Sault Ste Marie, whose cousin (Alex Morin) actually participated in the Games a few years back as a member of the Peewee Greyhounds. “It’s kind of funny, because when my cousin was playing for the chance to go to the Winter Games, they beat the Sons in the final,” said Bouchard. “I got him back this year,” he added with a chuckle.
Boasting a very balanced team, the Sons will be looking to the likes of Arsenault to help show the way offensively. After not cracking the roster one year ago, the grade seven student at St John’s in Garson currently sits fifth in team scoring with 20 points, trailing Alex Pharand (28), Miguel Renaud (26), Kohen Crane (24) and Alex Chartier (23). He credits his year over year development to a simple recipe built around hard work.
“I practiced a lot at home, practicing my shots,” he said. “I practiced skating on outdoor rinks, and I was always trying 100%.” For his part, Bouchard returned to the team to help solidify a defensive unit that ranks as the stingiest in the league, on a goals against per game basis. “The team changed up a little, and I find that we play better together now than last year,” he said.
“We move the puck better. We always have to have our head up, looking and knowing where our players are at all times, visualizing the play.” As for the team staff, it certainly wasn’t as though this achievement was completely unexpected.
“I think we knew we had the kids, the talent, the ability,” admitted coach Roy Talevi. “Leading up to it, however, we had suffered some losses that we didn’t really expect to, and it might have taken a little confidence away. Still, we knew we had a strong chance.”
Understandably pleased with putting together a game plan that would lead to a gold medal performance, Talevi shifted full credit to the young players who implemented the strategy to near perfection. “I think it was really a matter of playing three periods of solid hockey,” he said.
“Up until that time, we had some major lapses during some periods. The kids really, really listened to their coaches. We changed up some of the forechecks, helping to upset the balance of some other teams, which really helped us. Kudos to them - they’re a great bunch of kids and they really want to learn.”
With no children of his own on this team, Talevi provides a perspective that comes from years of sporting involvement, at large scale competitions, with his own children, including the opportunity to attend an international women’s hockey tournament in Mexico, representing Canada, his daughter Alyssa a goaltender with that team.
“It really is about the experience,” he said. “Some of these kids will never experience something at this level again. All of the pomp and circumstance – they really make them feel special.” As for team expectations, Talevi is quite realistic. “The hockey itself is going to be tough, we know that going in. It’s always tough playing against the top teams out of the southern regions. We definitely have our work cut out for us.”
Rounding out the 2017-2018 Nickel City Major Peewee “AAA” Sons roster are goaltenders Carter MacDonald and Logan Carr, skaters Alex Coulombe, Noah Kohan, Isak Fjordell, Bryson Smith, Kyle Dessureault, Hugh Campbell, Carson Crane and Derrick Lecuyer, and staff members Shawn Frappier and Kevin Boyd (coaches), manager James Dunlop and trainer Marc Bouchard.