Carmichael Arena was the place to be for local minor hockey fans seeking to urge on Sudbury and area teams vying for a coveted Silver Stick Regional banner on Sunday afternoon.
With very strong local representation in the younger ages – there were actually no district teams entered in either of the Minor Midget A-AA division, or the Midget A-AA bracket – it was up to the remaining age groups to help produce the six championship titles that would see Nickel District Minor Hockey League squads earning their spots in the various International Silver Stick tournaments in January.
Few of the finals, if any, matched the drama of the Major Atom “AA” affair, as the Copper Cliff Redmen and Nickel City Jr Sons followed up two periods of scoreless hockey by trading third period markers less than thirty seconds apart, sending the contest to overtime.
Mason Walker would drill home the game-winning goal on the opening shift of the four on four session, giving the Redmen their third tournament triumph of the year, after Brett Moxam (Nickel City) and Ryder Coe (Copper Cliff) traded goals in regulation time.
“Strength, determination, perseverance and, above all, the ability to remain calm in the face of adversity is a big part of our message to the kids,” noted Redmen head coach Ryan Yurich. “The kids were fantastic. No one was panicking on the bench.”
Now in his fourth year at the helm of a core group that has been together since their days of Select Sevens hockey, Yurich noted that the success of his team has as much to do with instilling key off-ice personal skills as it does with the on ice teachings of the Copper Cliff coaching staff.
“At the end of the day, it's about team and values,” he said. “We're trying to find kids that can obviously play the game, but are also a fit, value-wise. Our Monday practices (which also welcome seven additional players who are not on the 2018-2019 team) are strictly skills – skating, passing, puck control with their heads up.”
“Tuesday is still skills, but more systems, learning to play as a team,” Yurich added. “For systems, we're trying to teach the the basic fundamentals, the foundation that you will need as you get older to play the game properly.”
Assisting with this very rapid learning curve is a noteworthy depth of talent at the Major Atom age group this year. “It speaks to the competition that we have in the '08 year, competition that makes us better,” said Yurich. “The competition between Sudbury (both Wolves and Copper Cliff Redmen), Nickel City and the Soo in that age bracket is off the charts.”
Taking a page for their younger clubmates, the Copper Cliff Minor Peewee Redmen also secured a championship crown at Carmichael, blanking the Brampton 45's in the very next game. Jacob Plante and Cole Dubowsky scored twice each, while Zach Neron recorded the shutout.
Four other local teams walked off with gold medals, as the Nickel City Novice A Coyotes defeated the West Nipissing Sting 4-1, while the Nickel City Minor Bantam “A” Coyotes avenged an earlier 2-0 loss to the Orillia Terriers, edging their southern counterparts 3-2 in the final.
The Novice Coyotes spotted the Sting an early 1-0 lead, roaring back on goals from Copper Niquet, Jackson Leveillé, and a pair from Nick Christakos, the second into an empty-net late, securing their spot at the Pelham international tournament in January.
On a lighter note, the victory also provided head coach Mitch Lapierre with family bragging rights over the holidays, getting the better of a pair of cousins from just outside of Sudbury who serve as head coach and assistant coach with the West Nipissing novice representatives.
The Minor Bantam Coyotes faced perhaps even a little more adversity en route to their crown, overcoming the loss of three players to injuries in getting the better of one of the top teams, in their bracket, in the province.
Coach Jason Lavallee was hopeful that a pair of tournament appearances at top-end Minor Bantam "A" events would prepare his team for the challenge of Silver Stick, with his crew taking part in both the Ottawa Volunteer Cup and the Bradford Blue and Gold tournaments.
Second period markers by Jacob Lefrancois, on the power play, and Joshia Montpellier vaulted the 'Yotes to a 2-0 lead, but Orillia fought back, deadlocking the contest at 2-2 in the third.
With fans on the edge of their seats, Bryce Firman would send the Nickel City folks home happy, burying the overtime winner with the teams playing four on four hockey, as the Sons enjoyed another solid performance between the pipes from netminder Carter MacDonald.
The Nickel City Minor Bantam “AA” Jr Sons also required some overtime heroics, as Noah Kohan found the back of the net with the teams playing three on three hockey as coach Rick Pitras' troops slipped past the North York Knights 5-4.
Miguel Renaud lit the lamp three times for the winners, with Carson Crane adding the remaining goal, as Nickel City built up leads of 2-0 and 4-2 after the first and second periods, only to see the Knights score twice, early in the third, forcing the extra stanza.
Few championships over the weekend likely felt sweeter than the Sudbury Bantam "AA" Wolves 4-3 triumph over the York Mills Rangers. Not only did the Rangers defeat the Sudbury crew in a lopsided round robin affair on Friday, recording a convincing 6-1 win, but they were more than a little chatty over the course of the contest.
Coach Marc Tardif and company could not have selected a better method of exacting a measure of revenge as Atley Gringorten sniped the tournament winner, in overtime. Even more satisfying is the fact that the SMHA crew needed a game-tying goal in the final minute of play just to send the contest to period number four.
Nick Tarini netted his second goal of the game with 29 seconds showing on the clock, with Brandon Salem sandwiching the remaining Sudbury tally between Tarini's two strikes.
Beyond the local champions, a total of no less than seven Greater Sudbury entries settled for silver medals, including the Nickel City Minor Atom “AA” Jr Sons, doubled 4-2 by the Upper Ottawa Valley Aces. Kaden McGregor paced the Ottawa attack with a hat trick, the final goal drilled into an empty net, while Hunter Currie handled all of the offense for the Jr Sons, netting a pair of markers.
“They've come together and are really starting to play as one,” noted Nickel City head coach Jamie Morris, shortly before the final. “We're a lot less selfish, a we have a lot of puck pressure. They're working hard and having fun.”
“They are starting to buy-in to the shorter shifts,” Morris added. “If they have nothing to do with the puck, no good play to be made, they're dumping it. They're starting to spread out and play their positions.”
“We tell them to work hark and have fun, be a good teammate and don't be scared to make a mistake. If you make a mistake because you're trying hard, not a problem. We all make mistakes.”
The field of 93 teams, which featured a grand total of 210 games scheduled between Thursday and Sunday, included some near misses for local entries. The Nickel City Minor Atom “A” Coyotes suffered a 6-4 setback and the hands of the East Gwillimbury Eagles in their grand finale, while the Nickel City Sharks were tripped up, 4-3, by Centre Wellington Fusion in the Peewee “A” contest.
The Stittsville Rams bested the Nickel City Atom “A” Knights 3-1, the Orillia Terriers recorded a 2-0 whitewashing of the Nickel City Minor Peewee “A” Sharks, while the Soo Jr Greyhounds walked off with Novice “AA” bragging rights, courtesy of a 4-0 win over the Sudbury Wolves.
In Peewee “AA” action, the Markham Islanders claimed gold with a 3-0 win over the Halton Hills Thunder. The Sudbury Peewee “AA” Wolves fell by the wayside in a semi-final heart-breaker, beaten 2-1 in overtime by the Thunder, with Atom Thususka accounting for the sole Sudbury tally.
In a pair of matches that did not involve regional representation, the Halton Hills Minor Midget “AA” Thunder blanked the Aurora Tigers 2-0, while a very impressive Newmarket Redmen Midget “AA” crew was full measure for a 5-2 win, in the final, over the North York Knights.