Silver Stick hockey is not typically a tournament of second chances.
The Nickel City Major Atom "A" Coyotes were more than happy to be the exception, making the most of their opportunity by advancing right through to the semi-finals of the International Silver Stick playdowns in Sarnia last month.
"Our coach put his phone on speaker and the manager of the International Silver Stick (Mark Colbran) was talking to us," said 10-year-old centreman Alex Montpellier. "He asked us if we would like to have another shot at Tillsonburg in Sarnia."
"We were all so excited."
Back at the regional Silver Stick in Sudbury in early December, the Atom "A" Coyotes posted a preliminary round record of 3-1, good enough to slide them into a top four seeding in the group of nine teams that had assembled in northern Ontario.
A 5-3 win over Hearst HLK, after beating the same team 4-2 earlier the same day, propelled Nickel City to the final, a rematch with a Tillsonburg Tornadoes crew that had won five straight games by a combined margin of 36-5, including a 7-0 drubbing of the Coyotes.
"It wasn't a loss, it was lessons learned," said Nickel City head coach Corey Lafleche. "Our team had to re-focus. We made an adjustment and concentrated on our defence, because they're a very skilled team."
While the end result was a much more competitive outing, the reality remained that a 2-1 loss to the powerful Tornadoes appeared to signal the end of the line for the Silver Stick dreams of the local youngsters.
With Tillsonburg, however, having also emerged victorious at a regional Silver Stick event closer to home, and with Sarnia organizers looking for a way to include a Northern Ontario entry in their field, the call to the Coyotes would come less than two weeks later.
With a core of talent that remained intact from the 2018-2019 Minor Atom "A" Coyotes team, the current edition have integrated some six to seven newcomers to their lineup this winter, with one and all now slotted into the appropriate role.
"Jayden (Bretschneider) and Kyle (Buckland) are my normal linemates," said Montpellier, a grade five student at Ecole de la Decouverte. "We pass a lot, we skate a lot, and I think we play good defence. Kyle is a good back-checker, I am a good playmaker, and Jaden is good with his passing and scoring."
Still with the forwards, 11-year-old Carter Ellsworth is among the first year Coyotes, transitioning from houseleague hockey one year ago.
"I wanted to push myself to play harder and go to a league that is better and harder and more competitive," said Ellsworth.
Despite not winning their regional tournament, the Nickel City Atom "A" reps were more than just competitive in Sarnia. The team stormed through way through Pool "B", defeating, in succession, the Plymouth Flyers (5-0), the Napanee Stars (3-1) and the King Rebellion (4-3).
In quarter-final action, the Coyotes bounced the Capitals Academy 7-0, but were beaten 6-0 by the Omaha Jr. Mavs, who would fall 6-5 to Tillsonburg in the International final.
"Everybody said that we would get cracked on and lose," said Ellsworth. Not a chance, though a top four finish likely exceeded most of the expectations of players, coaches and parents alike.
"We had to play really hard, but it was fun," continued the grade five student at Foyer Jeunesse, who patrols the right wing for the Coyotes. "I liked hanging out with my friends and making it to the semi-finals."
"When we got the invite, I think the coaching staff and parents were just as excited as the players," said coach Lafleche. "I thought that if we played our game, we were very deserving of being down there."
In order to accomodate the offer to attend the International Silver Stick tournament, the local squad had to back out of a commitment to attend an event in Ottawa. There was clearly something to the allure of the Sarnia gathering of Atom teams.
"It's everything about the Silver Stick," said Lafleche. "The tradition - I think this was the 51st year - and just the exposure to play teams that are from out of country, they were all things the kids really enjoyed."
Following is a brief scoring recap of the Coyotes games in Sarnia:
vs Plymouth Flyers - 7-0 win - Carter Rideout (2), Alex Montpellier, Kyle Buckland, Brady Carriere, Ryerson Johnston, Jayden Bretschneider - shutout registered by Bryce Zadorozniak
vs Napanee stars - 3-1 win - Caleb Larose, Caleb Rocheleau, Kyle Buckland
vs King Rebellion - 4-3 win - Ryerson Johnston (2), Caleb Larose, Alex Montpellier
vs Capitals Academy - 7-0 win - Caleb Larose (3), Blake Lafleche (2), Olivia Carriere, Kyle Buckland - shutout registered by Chloe Trudeau
A few weeks after the International Silver Stick tournament, the team was informed that Cameron Quesnel had been named to the Atom "A" Division all-star team, with 16 entries competing in that particular grouping.
Rounding out the roster for the Nickel City Major Atom "A" Coyotes are Evan Ouimet, Edison Joly, assistant coaches Rico Johnston and Jason Montpellier, trainers Bill Rideout and Line Trudeau, and team manager Martin Larose.