Atom Thususka has friends on the Nickel City Minor Bantam "AAA" Sons team.
Those friendships may have to be put on hiatus for a week or two.
Cut from the Sons at spring tryouts, but enjoying an outstanding season with the Sudbury Minor Bantam "AA" Wolves this year, and affiliated with the North Bay Minor Bantam "AAA" Trappers (as part of the NOHA affiliation at large policy), Thususka has played in an integral role in the two games to none series lead that the Gateway City crew currently enjoy in the NOHL championship best of five affair.
The 14 year old forward scored the game-tying goal in game one, forcing overtime, before teammate Anthony Boyes netted the winner about eight minutes into period number four. Sunday in Azilda, Thususka would net the game-winning goal as the Trappers (2nd place - 36 pts) upended the Sons (1st place - 39 pts) 3-1 in game two.
And while one could certainly understand that the local product might have a little extra motivation on the line with this latest cameo appearance with the North Bay squad, the well-spoken teen wasn't taking the bait, to his credit.
"I just try not to think about it and just play as hard as I can," said Thususka. "I'm just trying to play how I normally do, and it seems to be working. I have to be using my speed and aggressiveness to help get the puck out of our defensive zone, and to make plays."
That was clearly his calling card in game one, as he evened the contest at 1-1, early in the third period, after Ethan Morris broke the ice for Nickel City in the first. "I got a pass up the wing and started going up, and I saw that there was an open spot, over the goalie's shoulder," Thususka explained. "I shot and hoped for the best, and it went in."
"Usually, I normally go on the far side, because that's usually open, but their goalie was crouching down low and there wasn't a lot of open space there, so I went short side."
Yet as compelling as this storyline might be in the Minor Bantam Division, it didn't even come close to topping the NOHL chart of dramatic moments this weekend. In Major Peewee play, the fourth place Sudbury Wolves (17 pts) appeared to have given the league leading Soo Jr Greyhounds (43 pts) their best shot last weekend, taking game two to triple overtime before dropping a 5-4 encounter.
Yet despite trailing the series 2-0, and down a goal (3-2) with under three minutes to play in game three, the Peewee Wolves rallied, with Grant Booth burying both the game-tying goal, as well as the overtime winner, forcing game four Sunday at Cambrian Arena.
This time around, it would be Ian Burnett who would cue the heroics, scoring both goals for Sudbury, including the game-winner in double overtime, as the Wolves and Greyhounds move to game five Wednesday in Sault Ste Marie following a 2-1 win for the home side.
The winner of that matchup will face a yet to be determined opponent, as the Nickel City Major Peewee "AAA" Sons and the North Bay Trappers split a two-game set for the second straight weekend. A 3-1 win on Saturday for the Trappers (Corey Lacroix scored for the Sons) was followed by a 3-0 shutout for Nickel City, as goals by Liam-Juelz Nootchtai, Matti Jouppi and Karsen Deschenes forced yet another winner take all affair.
In Major Bantam action, the Nickel City Sons had suffered only one loss in regular season play, though they did have six ties to their credit, as well. Facing the Soo Greyhounds, with a berth at the All-Ontario Championships on the line, the locals were unable to tag back to back wins together in Levack over the weekend.
Nickel City stopped the Sault 6-2 on Saturday, with Kohen Crane (2), Dominic Morris, Alex Pharand, Sam McCue and Alex Chartier all finding the back of the net for the winners. On Sunday, the Sons looked to have momentum on their side, heading to overtime, as Miguel Renaud knotted the game at 4-4 with just two seconds to play.
But it was Carter Lidstone who ended the drama early, registering his second goal of the game less than a minute in and making things more than a little interesting with the series deadlocked at a game apiece, and with games three and four in Sault Ste Marie next weekend.
Finally, the Minor Peewee "AAA" final will pit the Nickel City Sons (45 pts) against the Soo Jr Greyhounds (45 pts), as expected, but not before the Sudbury Wolves (29 pts) forced the Saultites to battle tooth and nail to earn their place in the championship slate.
Sudbury surprised the Hounds, out of the gate, with a 5-1 win in game one, with the Soo delivering some retribution (8-2) the next day at home. With the series shifting to Sudbury, the Wolves went right down to the wire before dropping a 4-3 decision in game three on Saturday, and were close until about the midway point of period two of game four, with the Greyhounds turning it on in the end for a 6-2 triumph.
The loss, however, does little to deter to positive strides the local crew have enjoyed under first year head coach and former Sudbury Wolves' captain Mike MacDonald. The 29 year-old, who served as an assistant coach previously with Craig Duncanson at Laurentian, is very much a product of the new style of hockey, both as a player, and as a coach.
"One of the main things I focused on with this group, at 11 years old, was skating," said MacDonald, the picture of calmness, behind the bench. "It's such a big part of today's game. It was a big part of my success in the game, so it's something I wanted to emphasize."
"A lot of the skating that we do is not your typical line to line skating - that's not what I'm talking about," he added. "It's all of the edgework, developing an efficient skating style. Part of it, for me, is having a trained eye with all of the years that I had coaches with me, figure skaters and what not. There are definitely things to look for."
"You can skate a thousand times wrong, and if I have a kid who has learned the proper mechanics, he will be a faster, more efficient skater."
Meanwhile, the Sons finished off the North Bay Trappers with relative ease, sweeping their series with a 9-3 win as Caleb Mead paced the offense with a hat-trick, with Russell Ranger chipping in with a two-goal effort of his own.