The margin for error at the Regional Silver Stick tournament for the Nickel City Minor Peewee "A" Sharks was paper-thin.
A 2-1 win by the Sharks on Saturday evening, opposite the Barrie Colts, in the final round robin game for both teams, was earned within the context of already knowing the same two adversaries would be meeting again, in the final in Sudbury last month, on the very next day.
"We didn't think that we would definitely win, but we had a lot of confidence built up with us, so we wanted to play 100% and try to win it," noted 11 year old Shawn Huzij, a grade six student at St Charles Catholic Elementary School in Chelmsford.
"You don't want to have too much confidence, but it's good to have confidence to motivate us and stuff at this age. The night before our finals, we were playing Barrie and they were starting to get tired, and we thought we had a chance to beat them."
In fact, the gold medal affair could not have been much closer.
Deadlocked in a scoreless tie, the teams would work their way through to a two on two overtime session. "One of our players went up for a rush, I think it was Owen (Blay), and he got tripped, but then our defenseman (Deric Boisvert) got it and shot from the left far side, the hash marks, and got it short side shoulder," recalled Huzij.
That was the goal that would propel the Nickel City Peewee "A" crew on to the International Silver Stick this coming weekend in Newmarket, as the Sharks battle seven other teams for divisional bragging rights, with preliminary round match-ups set against the Owen Sound Jr Attack, Brantford 99'ers and host Newmarket Redmen, as well as a cross-over game versus the St Thomas Stars.
"I think it's going to be kind of hard, because it's all of the teams that won their Silver Stick," explained Huzij. "It's going to be really hard competition, but as long as we play as a team, I think we have a chance at winning."
While there is a core of this team that played together in 2018-2019, members of the then Nickel City Major Atom "A" Coyotes, the fact is that almost half the roster has been turned over this year.
Huzij came from the Rayside-Balfour Minor Hockey Association houseleague system, as did Riley Payzant. A school-mate of Huzij at St Charles, Reegan Purvis is a product of the Onaping Falls Huskies minor hockey tradition, making the jump to rep hockey this year.
"I found it hard at first, but after the first few months went by, I started to feel a lot more comfortable with our team." To the point where he has now joined forces with fellow forwards Bryan Halonen and Logan Scott, forming one of the units that will look to assert itself this weekend in Newmarket.
"I would describe us more as an offensive line, because we cycle the puck pretty well," said Purvis. "If we get it back to the point, we can get a shot off and we'll have people in front of the net for the screen. If the goalie saves it, we'll try and clean up the rebound and get it into the net."
Not surprisingly, much of the Nickel City attack is built off a structured approach entering the opponent's zone, teachings that were new to Purvis this year. "One of the things I learned is the 1-2-2," he said.
"We've been working on it a lot. When we cross the red line and dump it in, F1 (forward #1) goes to the puck, F2 goes to the hash mark boards, and F3 goes over, and then we kind of shift too."
The retention of this knowledge is undoubtedly the source of a great deal of pride to the Sharks coaching staff, working hard to develop a broad spectrum of hockey knowledge to this talented group of youngsters this season.
"Our boys are extremely receptive to instruction, and they learn very, very quickly," noted head coach Lee Rinaldi. "It was very important that we follow our three pillars that we set up at the beginning of the season and have continued throughout: discipline, attitude and coachability."
Given the tightness of the match-ups with the Colts in Sudbury, as well as the fact that the Sharks had also played to ties against both the Sudbury Wolves (2-2) and Georgina Blaze (1-1) at the same event, one can see the benefit of the players sticking to the plan.
"They are extremely disciplined, both on and off the ice," said Rinaldi. "In tight games like that, you can't afford to fall behind with penalty trouble."
Now comes the time to test that approach against a larger and even more skillful sample size, as the Sharks seek to nail down a top-two placement in their pool, a showing that would earn the team a berth in the International Silver Stick semi-finals.
"We want to be competitive," stated coach Rinaldi. "Ultimately, our measure of success throughout the year is that we want to be playing on Sunday. If we can go down there and be competitive, then the sky is the limit for this team."
The remainder of the 2019-2020 roster for the Nickel City Minor Peewee "A" Sharks includes Rowan McCann, Ryan Rinaldi, Cohen Allair, Alex Lecuyer, Caleb Leclair, Luc Beaulieu, Lukas Coufal, Brandon Hebert, Mathew Gedye and Hayden Walsh.
The Nickel City Minor Peewee "A" Sharks are the first of three local teams that are competing in International Silver Stick play this month, with both the Nickel City Major Atom "AA" Jr Sons and the Nickel City Major Bantam "A" Sharks following suit later in January.
Team profiles on both the Jr Sons and the Bantam "A" Sharks are scheduled to be completed over the course of the next two weeks.