There was no lack of belief within the coaching staff and players of the Thunder Bay Kings, as they prepared to face the North Central Predators in the Major Peewee final of the 40th Annual Big Annual Hockey Tournament Sunday afternoon at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex.
This in spite of the fact that the Preds had registered a 5-3 win over the northwestern Ontario entry, in round robin play, on day two of the event on Friday.
“We believe in our team, we believe in each other, we believe in skills and development, we believe in everybody playing,” noted head coach Walter Keating, minutes after his team avenged the earlier loss, downing North Central 3-1 in capturing gold medals in the rematch.
“There is a big commitment to skating and skill in this program, a big commitment to the collective,” Keating added. “All of the boys have bought in. They understand that if we do it together, we can do some really great things. Winning a tournament in our first tournament out is pretty special.”
Luke Kluchkowsky snapped a scoreless tie in the final minute of period two, with Easton Mikus doubling the Thunder Bay advantage early in the third. The Predators got that one back just ten seconds later, as Braedan Begley hit the mark, setting the stage for an insurance empty-net goal courtesy of Nicholas Silvaggio, who chased down a perfectly executed zone clear by defensive specialist and tournament MVP Matthew Bertolin.
“I got to the puck and thought just get it out of the zone,” said Bertolin, after the game. “The “D” was pinching down on me so I go it out the far side and Nik was there.” It wasn’t the first time that the 12 year-old had utilized his keen sense of hockey awareness, playing a lead role on a five on three penalty kill in both the final and a 4-1 win over the Markham Majors on Friday.
“The first thing I think about is winning the draw,” explained Bertolin. “When we get the draw, I look and see if we can ice it, we try and ice it right away.” If the opportunity is not there, he is on to Plan B. “I try and stay in the middle of the ice in our zone, but if they make a pass and he wobbles it, then I’ll go and attack, because he doesn’t have full control of the puck.”
As for coach Keating, he wasn’t sweating a whole lot the preliminary setback against North Central, even though he acknowledged them as a more than worthy opponent. “We made five mistakes against North Central and they made us pay for them,” he said. “We outshot them, so we knew that we could play with them – we just had to clean up our mistakes.”
While the Big Nickel Tournament might not attract the numbers it once did, it certainly doesn’t show in the caliber of the midget division, a real treat for fans who took in the games this past weekend. The Mississauga Rebels won six of their seven games en route to a divisional championship that culminated with a 1-0 triumph over the Ajax-Pickering Raiders, though their margin of victory never exceeded three goals.
In fact, the Rebels were involved in three two goal games and an equal number of single digit victories, including both of their encounters on Sunday. A first period goal by Jack Price, with Jules Jardine Jr and Ethan Gonsalves drawing the assists, was all the offense that Mississauga would need as netminder Cale McWilliams turned aside all 21 shots that he faced.
The Rebels earned their spot in the final thanks to a 2-1 win over the Toronto Nationals while Ajax-Pickering advanced after blanking the Burlington Eagles 2-0.
From a local perspective, the Sudbury Minor Midget Wolves provided a very solid account for an underaged crew, more than competitive in three of their four losses, including a tough 3-2 setback at the hands of the Ajax-Pickering Raiders. Vincent Lavoie led the team offensively, scoring three goals in four games, with Brayden Lafrance adding a pair.
Meanwhile, in the minor peewee division, the Kanata Blazers scored once in each period, recording a 3-0 whitewashing of the Soo Jr Greyhounds as Owen Adams, Andrew Wang and Marc Bangs handled the offense while Matthias D’Souza registered the shutout.
There was plenty of northern Ontario interest in the morning semi-final as coach Jason Young and the Nickel City Minor Peewee Sons and coach Terry Chitaroni and his Minor Peewee Greyhounds tangled for the umpteenth time over the course of the past few years.
The Saultites struck for a pair of goals just 33 seconds apart in the opening minute of the second period (Cole Wreggitt, Evan Headrick), riding that lead until the very end of the game when they iced the contest with two more tallies, both into a vacant Nickel City cage (Nikolas Rossetto, Brock Chitaroni).
Payton Melchiore was outstanding between the pipes in the win, enjoying a 31-save performance as Sault Ste Marie made it back to back shutouts over the Sons, striking three times in the third in a 3-0 contest on Friday.
Nickel City did manage to post a couple of wins, 5-2 over the Grey-Bruce Highlanders (Brett Moxam with two goals) and 5-0 over the North Bay Trappers (Russell Ranger with two goals – Mateo Beites with the shutout), as well as going toe to toe with the Blazers in a 2-1 loss to Kanata.