In any other year, last weekend would have signaled one of the largest gatherings of girls hockey talent in the province with the hosting of the annual OWHA (Ontario Women's Hockey Association) Provincials throughout the GTA.
And while the pathway to glory for local teams has grown increasingly more difficult as the field expanded exponentially over the course of the past decade or so, the fact remains that Sudbury Lady Wolves' teams, and their fore-fathers (so to speak), have been prominent in enjoying success, almost from the very inception of this tournament.
In fact, while concrete records dating back to the previous century are not easily accessible, we are aware that the mid to late nineties appears to have given rise to a pair of local Ontario championship squads - at very least. With the likes of Kristy MacKenzie and Rebecca Paul leading the way, an atom rep team (Sudbury Selects) coached by Rick Comtois survived a 2-1 record in pool play en route to ultimately earning provincial bragging rights in 1995.
Three years later, a Sudbury Intermediate "A" ladies team also took gold at the event, giving way to a stretch of four to five years where the crew that would produce both Tessa Bonhomme and Katie Johnston recorded a number of very memorable victories - but none in provincial gold medal showdowns, coming ever so close, one year, with a 1-0 loss to Ottawa.
In fact, it was a most unexpected source that produced the next two gold medal victories, starting with the Peewee A Lady Wolves in 2003. Returning just four players from the previous year's entry and taking to the ice with a pair of minor-aged goaltenders (Britny Burns/Maxime Rainville), the locals boasted a mark of just 2-1-1 in their pool, though it was enough to earn a berth in the semi-finals.
A Tori Skot goal early in overtime on Sunday morning lifted Sudbury to a 1-0 win over the London Devilettes, before the northern crew prevailed over a Burlington team that had to go six periods of overtime to make their way to the finals, blanking the Barracudas 2-0.
The very first Novice Lady Wolves team to compete at provincials also produced the first and only gold medal, in this age bracket, for Sudbury girls, though few would have predicted it after a London Devilettes powerhouse bounced the BB grouping 4-0 in their opening game.
Yet despite being outshot 51-5 in the final (that statistic would come courtesy one of the London parents), the Lady Wolves rode a shutout performance from Stephanie Pascal and an overtime tally from Karli Shell to a surprising 1-0 gold medal victory over the Devilettes in the rematch in the final.
While medals were common place over the next few years, it wasn't until 2008 that the Midget AA Lady Wolves would break the ice, opening the door for what has become the single largest generator of hardware, by division, to the stable of competitive teams that are iced annually by the Sudbury Girls Hockey Association.
With a handful of players from the 2004 peewee team reconnected, the group that was coached by Albert Crispo and Barry McCrory had made a name for itself throughout the year. Still, missing the podium altogether at the Ontario Winter Games had left the girls hungry for more, as the Lady Wolves outscored their opponents 11-2 at provincials, forging their way to the Sunday final four.
One can note that drama seems to seep into a number of these gold medal recollections, and this battling brigade was no different, trailing the Etobicoke Dolphins 1-0 late in the contest when Tara Dantouze sent the contest to overtime, finding the back of the net with under two minutes to play.
Micheline Frappier would end the contest, before scoring twice more, showing the way in the final as the Sudbury Midget AA Lady Wolves upended the Ottawa NNCP Capitals 5-2 for the win.
Just one year after being shutout in the medal count altogether in 2010, the nickel city ladies would climb to the very top of the mountain, courtesy of a Peewee A team that had proven themselves the class of that bracket all season long.
While it would take an overtime goal from Kailey Lapensee to survive the quarter-final, that was as close as this team would come to tasting defeat, riding an eight-goal weekend performance by Melisa Kingsley, and four shutouts from Zoe Piquette to an all-Ontario title.
In 2014, some very familiar names were back at it again.
With a trip to nationals on the line - Stoney Creek was hosting the Esso Cup and had already captured their semi-final encounter - Melisa Kingsley netted a breakaway overtime goal that lifted the Sudbury Midget AA squad to a 1-0 triumph over the Whitby Wildcats, earning the team a berth in the OWHA final.
From there, it would be goaltender Stephanie Pascal recording a third consecutive shutout and Karli Shell netting the game winning goal (apparently, some things do come full circle from novice to midget), as the northern squad earned their first of their back to back banners.
Speaking of which, the contest that preceded the midget encounter was also reason for locals to celebrate, as the Sudbury Atom A girls benefitted from goals from Elise Belanger, Chloe Leduc, Lauren Fearn, Jenna Lachance and Kelsey Dunn, stopping Burlington 5-3 in a wide open affair.
While both their quarter-final (1-0 vs Whitby) and semi-final (2-1 vs Aurora) victories were as close as can be, the championship affair for the 2015 Midget AA Lady Wolves was anything but. Melisa Kingsley scored twice, with Karli Shell and Kennedy Roy adding one goal apiece as Sudbury downed the Saugeen-Maitland Lightning 4-1 in the final.
(This team also went on to win gold at the Esso Cup, the only Lady Wolves squad to accomplish the feat)
It's equally unlikely that Katie Pilotte will ever forget the 2016 OWHA Championships.
A go-to goal scorer with the Sudbury Atom A Lady Wolves that spring, Pilotte would bury the double overtime winner in a 1-0 semi-final victory over the North Simcoe Capitals, and then repeat the accomplishment, playing the hero again in overtime as Sudbury edged the Kitchener Lady Rangers 2-1 in the gold medal affair.
Joining the Atom "A" girls at the very top of the podium were the Peewee "BB" Lady Wolves, who also kept fans on the very edge of their seats. Aoife Mahaffy buried an overtime goal in quarter-final play, lifting Sudbury to a 3-2 win over the Lakeshore Lightning.
The team then displayed their defensive acumen in back to back games, blanking both the Woodstock Wildcats (1-0) and Russell Castor River Coyotes (2-0), as Kayla Thompson, Kaiden MacLean and Julia Hayes handled the scoring.
And finally, after back to back provincials where the Lady Wolves did not enjoy even a single team playing on championship Sunday (semi-finals or better), the host team for the 2019 Esso Cup would allow fans to celebrate, once again.
With their spot at nationals already a sure thing, the Sudbury Midget AA girls were intent on adding a little extra icing to their cake. A goal from Madisyn Papineau with just over three minutes to play snapped a 2-2 tie, propelling the Lady Wolves to a 3-2 win over the Stoney Creek Sabres.
Sudbury would go on to earn silver medals at nationals, with Stoney Creek settling from bronze.