Coming off a weekend sweep of the North Bay Trappers earlier this month in Levack, the Nickel City Major Bantam “AAA” Sons were off to London for Thanksgiving, site of the annual Wendy Dufton Memorial Invitational “AAA” Tournament.
With a playoff appearance on Sunday the goal for the local crew, it was mission accomplished thanks to a 1-1-2 round robin effort that included a 5-2 win over the Mississauga Senators, ties against both the London Jr Knights (1-1) and the Barrie Colts (2-2), as well as a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Fury (4-1).
With the likes of Alex Pharand (3 goals), Brady Bouchard (2) and Miguel Renaud (2) showing the way offensively, the Sons would eventually be eliminated from the tournament following a more than respectable 3-1 loss to the York-Simcoe Express in the round of eight, all while the team is still very much in the early stages of forming a little chemistry.
“Last year, I played with Kyle (Perreault) all year as my centre, but I’ve never played with Noah (Kohan) before,” said winger Sam McCue. “We’re like a defensive line, making sure that we get the puck out, don’t let them score, and then going down and getting opportunities.”
"As a team, I think we're a little more skilled, a little faster," added McCue. "We're working on having really quick feet." Part of the lack of familiarity with this group lies in the fact that while the 2019-2020 roster does draw upon a core of Minor Bantam “AAA” talent from one year ago, many of their new teammates opted to remain at the “AA” level for one additional year.
It represents a concoction of teenage players of which new head coach Corey Crane is quite keenly aware.
“They have played together, but it’s been a few years,” he acknowledged, following the game one win over North Bay on October 5th. “We have to get them back to the basics, get their feet moving. Once they feel comfortable, they will gel together. At this age, the players have a bad habit of moving the puck and then standing still.”
“We need to get them to think without the puck, move their feet, get into the open and support their players.”
With their OHL draft year less than 12 months away, the Major Bantam Sons are hoping to create an early impression in terms of serving notice to their opponents, across the province, of the overall competitiveness of the team.
"We're a big, strong, fast team," stated coach Crane. "If we move our feet, support the puck and use our physicality, we will have no problem sticking with the mid-pack teams. We're trying to explain to them that you just have to finish your checks."
"You don't have to go out there looking for the hits, but if you skate across the ice, just finish your check."
One of the team’s top scorers dating back to his days in atom and peewee age brackets, Billy Biedermann has been on the receiving end of some of those hits, gradually adjusting his game, over time. “There’s hitting now, and a lot of players like to hit, and I’m a target, I guess,” said the grade nine student at St Charles College.
“I just have to keep my head up more and be more aware of where I need to be. I just stay low, where I have a good centre of balance, so they can’t really knock me off my feet.”
As Biedermann sees it, the key to his game is speed. "That's what hockey is now, a lot of skating," he said. "I'm doing a lot of training with (Wolves strength and conditioning coach) Rick Kilganon."
"One of the things that we are doing is a lot of footwork," Biedermann continued. "I'm liking it. My acceleration has gotten a lot better than last year."
And while it may be a haul for some to make the trek out to Levack, there is something to be gained for coaches Corey Crane, Todd Crane, Troy Mallette and their crew.
"It's a nice community out here, with good support," said Crane. "They have their own dressing room, with a little more ownership of the rink, and the (practice) ice times are much earlier. For the coaches, it's definitely special."
"Both my brother and I played here, for the Huskies. I played in the first year that the league (what was then the Northern Ontario Bantam "AAA" Hockey League) existed. Darryl Moxam, Shawn Frappier, we were all on the same team out here."
"Now my kids get to play where we played."
The 2019-2020 Nickel City Major Bantam AAA Sons brings together goaltenders Logan Carr and Andrew Marois, and skaters Dominic Morris, Alex Chartier, Sam McCue, Kyle Perreault, Alex Pharand, Carson Crane, Cowan Billard, Cameron Allen, Miguel Renaud, Brady Bouchard, Kohen Crane, Easton Stanley, Billy Biedermann, Derrick Lecuyer and Noah Kohan.
The Major Bantams were not the only Sons’ squad to enjoy some success in London, as the Minor Bantam “AAA” Sons also advanced through to Sunday, knocking off the North York Rangers (4-2), London Jr Knights (5-2) and Chicago Fury (3-2) in succession after dropping a 3-0 decision to the North Central Predators.
With Yves Doiron (4), Caden Dubreuil (2) and Jacob Hayes (2) all finding the back of the net on multiple occasions on the weekend, the Sons fought their way into the quarter-final round before being dispatched, 4-0, by a very impressive Ottawa 67’s team.