With exactly 100 teams registered for the 2017 Sudbury Regional Silver Stick Hockey Tournament, local organizers are enjoying another wave of support for the long-time winter tradition. And while this can present a certain number of logistical challenges, they are not about to complain.
"From what I hear, teams are travelling less, so they may be looking at Sudbury as their one out of town tournament, and the Silver Stick is a good option," said tournament co-chair Chantal Levesque earlier this week.
"If you win, you get to go to the next level and play against teams that you would never get a chance to play against."
That, however, has been true for some time now. What is different is the level of competition that is now working its way through, south of the border, undeniably adding to the allure for teams looking to test themselves against varied top end opponents.
"USA Hockey has come a long, long way," said Levesque. "I hate to say this, but they are ahead of Hockey Canada. Being a Canadian and this being our sport, it kills me to say that, but this is the reality."
After attracting somewhere around 85 entries or so in 2016, the Sudbury Regional lurched forward to the century mark, the first time it has hit that plateau is roughly a decade or so, according to Levesque.
The increased attraction of the possibility of moving on to the International Silver Stick playdowns in January has created a domino effect, compelling more and more teams from outside of Northern Ontario to look at the Sudbury Regional as a viable option in pursuing their goals.
Teammates Mathieu Bourassa and Nolan Schiewek were on hand Tuesday evening for the Silver Stick media reception, both players representing the Nickel City Major Atom "AA" Jr Sons.
While their team will face familiar NOHA faces in the form of the Sudbury Wolves, Soo Jr Greyhounds, Timmins North Stars and Copper Cliff Redmen, their eight team bracket this year also includes the Mississauga North Stars, York Toros and Mississauga Terriers.
Battling it out with Sudbury for top spot in the Nickel District Minor Hockey League Peewee III Division, the Jr Sons are fresh off their appearance at the Play Station Platinum Cup hosted at the Mastercard Center in Toronto last weekend.
"We've been good individually, but we have to work mostly on playing as a team," said Bourassa. "We have to communicate, and we're not as strong in our defensive zone. Trying to be on the boards is tough, because sometimes you don't face the puck. That's what our coaches are trying to teach us."
The talkative ten year is the younger brother of Copper Cliff Midget "AA" forward and long-time "AAA" hockey talent Eric Bourassa. "He tries to teach me to skate better, with longer strides," acknowledged Mathieu.
"I've been having a hard time with longer strides, I've been doing short strides."
Though the Jr Sons returned a core of talent from the Minor Atom "AA" group of one year ago, they did encounter more turnover than might usually be the case, with nearly half the current lineup new to the group this year.
"There's definitely a lot of new people," said Bourassa. "We have people from single "A" last year who played in Walden and they came to help us out last year (due to injuries)."
As for the fact that the Nickel City crew will have to overcome a troika of GTA and area talent in order to reign supreme in Sudbury, Levesque suggested it's something of a double-edged sword.
"I think for the local teams, it's mixed," she said. "They like the fact that they are at home, with no extra costs, and get that good competition, but they would also like to play at the International Silver Stick."
Just how many will achieve that status will be determined on Sunday afternoon, with 16 championship encounters spread out between McClelland Arena in Copper Cliff, Carmichael Arena and both sides of the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex.