Head coach Derek Erickson and the Sudbury Minor Bantam AAA Wolves are measuring incremental improvement one small step at a time.
Despite dropping two games of a three-game set with the North Bay Minor Bantam Trappers on the weekend, the Wolves managed to pick up a win over their eastward rival for the first time this year, holding on for a 5-4 decision Dec. 22 at the Sudbury Arena.
The locals jumped out to a 3-1 first-period lead as goals from Gregory Trudeau-Paquet, Hunter Lammi and Ryder Thususka more than offset a tally from North Bay defenceman Mackenzie Aiken.
The visitors pulled even before the end of the high-scoring opening frame, getting goals from Eric Allair and Brady Lyle as the teams retreated to their dressing rooms deadlocked at 3-3.
Sudbury capitalized twice on the power play to open the middle stanza, with Jacob Burton pulling the trigger both times before Brennan Bartraw narrowed the deficit in half for the Trappers, scoring with 1:53 to play in period No. 2.
And where the first two frames were filled with goals, the third produced not one, as Sudbury netminder Justin Richer bounced back nicely from a shaky start in the afternoon encounter, turning aside 32 of 36 shots in picking up the win between the pipes for the Wolves.
Things were not nearly as rosy earlier in the day for coach Erickson and company as Lyle registered a hat trick for North Bay, leading his team to a 6-1 victory.
The Trappers closed out the weekend set with a win, scoring three times in the final 8:51 to break a 3-3 tie en route to a 6-3 triumph.
Camilo Rodrigue-Melo, Braedan Tulini and Trudeau-Paquet scored for the Sudbury side.
Still feeling the effects of key injuries, the Wolves called up peewee affiliates Patrick Musico and Tyler Maki for all three games.
Things were even closer in the major bantam battle between the two Northern Ontario cities as Sudbury and North Bay split their weekend match-up right down the middle.
The teams kicked things off Dec. 22, playing to a 2-2 draw as the Trappers fought back from a 2-0 deficit in the third, picking up key point with their sights still set on the third-place Wolves.
Blueliners Austin Burke and Ryan Mooney gave Sudbury the lead only to see Jacob Delisle and Finn Seguin help the visitors reel them in. Power-play goals ruled the day in Game 2 as eight of the 10 tallies occurred with a team short-handed as Sudbury bested North Bay 5-3.
Stephen Berardi paced the attack for the locals with a pair of goals, with Messier Quachegan, Alex Guido and Burke scoring once each. Thomas Farrell, Travis Budge and William Hatherly answered in a losing cause for North Bay.
The Trappers ensured they would not lose ground on Dec. 23, slipping past the Wolves 4-3 in a see-saw battle. After Berardi and Farrell traded first-period markers, North Bay grabbed a 3-1 lead in the second, scoring a pair of goals just 13 seconds apart.
Mickey George and Lucas Nevrencan accounted for the offensive outburst, with Berardi making things interesting with his second of the game later in the middle frame.
A marker by Budge allowed the Trappers to regain a two-goal advantage early in the third, with Guido pulling the Wolves to within one with just 2:25 to play. That's where the scoring would end as both teams dealt with a shortage of numbers on the bench, for a whole variety of reasons.
In fact, Sudbury Minor Bantams Camilo Rodrigue-Melo and Gregory Trudeau-Paquet provided yeoman's service, playing in back-to-back games Dec. 23 at Carmichael. Dressed for their own game at 9 a.m., the pair were right back on the ice with the major bantams at 11 a.m., with Brady Lyle and Ben Garagan doing the same for the visitors from North Bay.
All four Northern Ontario AAA Hockey Leagues covering the peewee and bantam ranks will now break for two weeks, with the Sudbury Minor Peewees travelling to North Bay on the weekend of Jan. 5 and 6 while the Major Bantam Wolves play host to the Soo Greyhounds.
The North Bay Major Bantams are back in the area, battling the Nickel City Sons in a three-game set, with the Nickel City Minor Bantams making the trek north to face the Timmins BMT Insurance North Stars.