A grand total of 23 teams representing the Nickel City Hockey Association, the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association and the Copper Cliff Minor Hockey Association participated in the Sudbury Regional Silver Stick playdowns over the last two weekends.
Only one advanced, earning the right to battle it out in International Silver Stick play come early 2023.
A shutout performance from netminder Braeden Thibault and a third period tally from Mason Hampel, on a penalty kill, no less, was just enough to allow the Nickel City U13 AA Jr Sons to slip past the Toronto East Enders 1-0 in their final in Copper Cliff on Sunday afternoon.
Given the numbers outlined above, this is a very big deal for a group of kids who are assembled from a couple of different 2021-2022 sources, given the decision locally to combine the NCHA and SMHA efforts into a singular AAA team at the U12 and U13 levels this winter.
“It’s probably one of the only tournaments that I know of that if you win, you basically get rewarded with another one (tournament),” noted 12-year-old right-winger Alex Proulx.
Like all other local entries, the U13 Jr Sons certainly dreamed of advancing, with the dream becoming reality in large part because of the speed in which the diverse group came together.
“It’s been an easy transition in the sense that the boys gelled nearly immediately,” said Head Coach Kevin O’Shaughnessy. “Our thought process was to get them all together real fast, real soon, so we booked a tournament just two weeks after we picked the team in September, just to get the boys accustomed to each other.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic how quickly they gelled.”
In fact, even in discussing the keys to the defensive excellence that would allow his team to keep the Toronto side entirely off the scoreboard in the final, Alex Proulx was quick to deflect the attention to the very solid back line of the Jr Sons.
“They (Toronto) move the puck really well and they always had a guy closer to the red line,” explained the Grade 7 student at Ste Thérèse. “Our D were good at pinching that forward so that they couldn’t get a pass over to the other guy on the other side of the boards.”
Of course, all of the intricate hockey systems in the world don’t do a whole lot of good if the youngsters do not possess the core skills needed to properly execute the game plan – something that O’Shaughnessy and his coaching staff have clearly itemized as a priority.
“Because they are still at that young age, we tend to focus more, at the start of the year, on getting back to the fundamentals,” he said. “The returning players from our team last year (U12 AA Jr Sons) really watch the players who are back from AAA, using them as examples, absolutely.
“They’re playing like a team that’s been together for a few years, not a few months,” he added.
In a sense, each player is a key part of the puzzle, understanding the importance of exactly where they fit into the mix. It’s part of the reason why Proulx has favoured remaining in his forward position on the wing.
“I can get into spots where I can get open in front of the net and shoot the puck,” he said. “It’s just natural for me.”
That will be important for one and all as the U13 AA Jr Sons look to raise their level of play in anticipation of the next step on the Silver Stick journey come January.
“It’s going to be more challenging than this past Silver Stick because it’s all of the teams that won the Regionals, teams from right across North America,” stressed Proulx.
Rounding out the 2022-2023 Nickel City U13 AA Jr Sons roster are Brayden Baronette, Chase Baronette, Noah Barriault, Luca Boucher, Nicolas Chamberland, Ethan Farquharson, Ethan Gallagher, Jackson Leveille, Merik Maillet, Reid Martin, Bryston Nixon, Logan O’Shaughnessy, Lennox Therrien and Dean Vildis.
Joining O’Shaughnessy on the team staff are assistant coaches Sean Gallagher, Ryan Proulx and Gilles Thibault as well as team manager Pamela Therrien.
Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.