"Never say die" can often serve as a rallying cry within the competitive sports sector. For the Sudbury Major Bantam "AA" Wolves this year, it's become pretty much the words they live by.
Back in December, the local team would fall, 6-1, to the York Mills Rangers in Regional Silver Stick round robin play. Two days later, the very same local crew would make it back to back overtime victories on Sunday, earning a berth at the International Silver Stick thanks to a 4-3 win over the Rangers.
"I think the teamwork that we had together, being down in the third period and coming back as a team was key," noted 14 year old forward and St Benedict Catholic Secondary School freshman Nick Tarini.
"We wanted to show everyone what we really had after the last game against them. I thought it was one of the best tournaments, the best feelings that I have ever had." Well, at least until his team did it all over again, and again.
Earlier this month, the Bantam Wolves travelled to Timmins, site of the NOHA Bantam “AA” Tournament of Champions. Sudbury again started slowly, beaten 3-2 by the West Ferris Trappers on Friday and playing to a 2-2 draw with the Nickel City Jr Sons later that evening. Saturday was better as the Wolves edged the Timmins North Stars 4-3 and thumped the Sault Majors 6-2.
But again, it was on Sunday that the team would shine. Little surprise that a fourth period would be required before the Wolves would oust the Jr Sons, 2-1, in the semi-final, courtesy of yet another OT winner from Atley Gringorten. And even when overtime is not needed, this team clearly has a flair for the dramatic.
Trailing 2-0 at the end of the second period against West Ferris in the gold medal encounter, the locals would rally behind goals from Seth Marlok, Brandon Salem and Gringorten, with Sudbury puck-stoppers Hunter Werbowsky and Joshua Stagg coming up huge in back to back games.
“These kids continue to fight hard,” noted head coach Marc Tardif. “They never give up on the bench, they are always encouraging each other. They just have a never say die attitude.” As for the more technical aspects of the game, Tardif is not about to sway substantially from the formula that has helped make many hockey teams successful.
“We've been spending a lot of time on getting in our zone and out of our zone quick, moving it to the neutral zone, making the right decisions in the neutral zone, and getting the puck in deep,” he said. "We want to keep working hard and keep the games close, give our goalies the chance to make the saves, and give ourselves a chance to win."
“When we are moving, we're unstoppable, and we showed that in the last game of the (Silver Stick) finals,” added Tarini. “If we can bring that to the tournament, I think we'll be successful competing against quite a few teams.”
A grade nine student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary, defenceman John Svalina helps to anchor a blueline corps that is just one of the important cogs for this team. “There is not just one guy scoring the goals,” he said. “Points are coming from everywhere. There's lots of goals generated from the defence, and we're gelling as a team.”
Also a very accomplished golfer, Svalina admitted that there is at least some carry-over from the two sports that occupy much of his time, throughout the year. "Obviously hockey is a team sport and golf is individual, but when I am on the driving range, just practicing, I'm still pushing myself to get better, just as I would do on the ice at practice."
"That's the correlation between the two sports."
The 2018-2019 Sudbury Wolves Bantam “AA” team that will compete, in Hamilton, from April 12th to the 14th at the OHF Championships also includes Ethan Rose, Justin Lancup, Alec Dewulf, Joshua McKay, Ben Fowke, Parker Tardif, A.J. Rondina, Oliver Coté, Dennis Wabegijig, Kobie Duff, head coach Marc Tardif, assistants Mark Rondina and Brent Salem, trainer Derick Rose and team manager Kevin Tarini.
NDMHL Playoff Update:: It looks like the Bantam Wolves are remaining true to form in their local post-season play. Trailing 2-0 after two periods of play against the North Bay Remax Trappers in game one of their league final, Sudbury stormed back to score five unanswered third period goals Monday at the Pete Polangio Arena.
Atley Gringorten helped show the way with a hat trick, with solo markers from John Svalina and Joshua McKay. Game two is set for Saturday night in North Bay, with the series shifting to Sudbury for games three and four on March 24th and 28th.