BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
The 24th Annual Big Nickel hockey Tournament, which kicks off Thursday and wraps up Sunday, will feature six local teams.
The Big Nickel has, in the last quarter century, gone from a small local tournament to one of the largest and most prestigious in the province.
The tournament is now so popular, numerous teams have to be turned away as peewee, bantam and midget AAA teams from across Ontario, and many from the United States and other parts of Canada, want to get in.
A total of 68 teams will battle over the course of four days in their respective divisions.
Over 90 teams filed applications to be part of Northern Ontario's premier minor hockey event.
Scouts representing every Ontario Hockey League team and dozens of scouts from American colleges and universities always make the trip to Sudbury to catch the outstanding hockey talent.
The tournament will feature six Sudbury area teams as well as eight other teams from Northern Ontario. Six team from the United States will also compete, including the Southern Ice Lightning, who're coached by former NHL star and North Bay Centennial Darren Turcotte.
Games will be contested at the Countryside, Chelmsford, Carmichael, Garson, Walden, McClelland and Cambrian Arenas. All three finals will be played at the Countryside Arena next Sunday, starting at 2pm.
Here?s a brief look at the local teams who will try and win championships in their own back yard this weekend.
Valley East Consbec Cobras
The Cobras are a well-rounded team, with solid contributions coming from every player.
Top point producers on the team include Joel Villeneuve, Carlo Metatawabin and Kurtis McNamara.
The Cobras pride themselves on hard work above all else.
Manager Dan Lafrance believes his team has a good chance at doing well this year as long as his team plays disciplined hockey.
Lafrance knows this tournament is a benchmark for what might happen later in the season.
"It's one of the earlier tournaments and it gauges where your team stands compared to other teams in the province. It has, in the past, been a turning point for our team. It seems to give the players some encouragement and confidence and we always seem to play well coming out of it."
Rayside Balfour Junior Sabrecats
The Sabrecats are another hard-working, well organized team.
Top scorers on the team include Al Joanette, Jeff Brouse and Gaven Crites. Defenceman Mike Charette and goalie Jonathan Robin anchor the defence.
All players have vital duties with the team. The Sabrecats key on the defensive part of the game, while using speed to move the puck.
General manager Jack MacLellan wants his team to play the whole tournament concentrating on one period at a time.
MacLellan knows the tournament is important because scouts are watching and it gives the players a chance to experience different hockey.
"It gives you a chance to see and participate against different styles of play."
Sudbury Cara?s Nickel Capitals
The Nickel Capitals have a defence-first style of play and have a commitment to playing competitive hockey, game in and game out.
The team is lead by top scorers Jordan Cheechoo, Matthew Bortolloto, Greg Zacher and Matthew Chuipka. High scoring forward Neal Ross will miss the tournament with a broken collarbone.
The team receives valuable contributions from all players.
The Nickel Capitals know they have a good chance to advance. Head Coach Steve Boyd can't wait to gauge his team against the best in the province.
"Our outlook is to get a good look at the competition. It's a measuring stick for the rest of the year."
Lockerby Confectionery Major Bantams
The team has made hard work its trademark. They like to be first on the puck and keep it moving and have great contributions from all players.
The team is led by Vern Cooper, who has tremendous offensive instincts and defenceman Chris Pontes, who is key on the power play.
Team manager Rick Pasanen would like to see his team advance to the playoff round. Pasanen sees the tournament as a good way to evaluate his team.
"Our goal is to participate in the All-Ontario Bantam Championship in March and this gives us an idea on how we compare with other big teams and what we might have to work on to get there."
Onaping Falls Huskies
The Huskies area young team that stresses defence without compromising scoring. The team is loaded with speed and solid goaltending, with everybody playing important roles.
Yves Bastien, Chris Shawanda and Kent Algate lead a well balanced attack. Coach and general manager Dave Berthelot has high hopes for the young club, despite 14 new faces.
"I believe we can go to the semi-finals or even the finals this year because of our depth, but we need to be consistent and learn to improve our play when we have the lead."
The Lakers will enter the tournament without one of their top players, Jordan Carroll, who recently broke his arm and will be out for the next six weeks.
In his absence, every player will be expected to step up and supply additional offence.
The Lakers build their game around skill and puck movement. When they stick to this game plan, they're usually successful.
The Lakers are still in the infancy of a new season, and head coach Steve Richardson would have liked to have had a few more games completed going into the tournament.
"We haven't played that many games yet, so we have to make sure we're ready to play hard."
All hockey fans are invited to take in the outstanding minor hockey action this weekend. Weekend passes are available at all the rinks.