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Sudbury Minor Midget Wolves look to impress at Toronto tourney

Wolves will clash with one of the province's best teams Friday
The Sudbury Minor Midget AAA Wolves are in the GTA this week for the 11th Annual Toronto Titans Minor Midget Early Bird Prospect Tournament. (File)

The Sudbury Minor Midget "AAA" Wolves will not have to wait long at all in order to have the chance to instantly grab the attention of OHL scouts right across the province.

One of 53 teams participating in the 11th Annual Toronto Titans Minor Midget Early Bird Prospect Tournament from Sept. 6 - 9, the Wolves have been dealt a very challenging four game round robin schedule.

Given, however, that game two will run the locals smack dab into the Don Mills Flyers (Friday, Sept. 7 at 2 p.m.), early favourites to capture the 2019 OHL Cup, the Sudbury lads certainly have the opportunity to garner instant notoriety.

Not that the possibility of an upset is anything more than a long shot.

Already acknowledged as the strongest Ontario team in the 2003 age group since their major peewee days together, the Flyers have, by all accounts, only gotten stronger heading into their junior draft year.

The same could be said for the Minor Midget Wolves. Head coach Mardy St. Jacques takes over the reins with a core of talent that was guided by Chris McInnis the past two years, but with a couple of key additions this fall.

Chase Stillman, son of Sudbury Wolves' head coach and former NHLer Cory Stillman, makes the move north after playing with the Central Ontario Wolves one year ago, while fellow forward Skyler St. Pierre returns to Sudbury after suiting up with the Barrie Jr. Colts in 2017-2018.

Add that to a deep mix of local talent and one can see that there exists at least the potential for this team to surprise a handful of higher-ranked opponents over the course of the next seven months.

"We have to use our speed," said 15-year-old city sprint champion Devon Savignac, who was arguably the most impressive player on the ice during the NOHA Camp in Sudbury in August.

"We have to use it more on the forecheck, use our speed through the neutral zone to get the puck in deep and go to work. I've got good speed, but I need to work on my hands, the ability to get out of tight situations in the corners."

Welcoming their third coach in the past four years in the form of St. Jacques, Savignac and company may require at least a few weeks to fully grasp the emphasis of a brand new system, though the grade 10 student at St. Charles College insists that there are some offsetting benefits to having a new voice in practice.

"We're all trying really hard to show the new coaches what we've got," said Savignac. "We had our last coach for two years, so he knew us pretty well, knew our bad habits. With a new coach, we have to show him our good habits and not show our bad habits as much."

For his part, Chris Innes will be content to simply show "new habits". Pretty much a life-long forward, except for the occasional venture back to the blue-line for tournaments such as the Little NHL and more recreational events, Innes has converted to a defenceman, this year, receiving plenty of support from his early season partner on the back end in learning in new position.

"Brandon Hass has been really good," said Innes. "He's really helped me with my positioning, different situations, where to make my passes. We're both pretty good skaters and we both have good offensive minds, but he says he's a little bit more defensive, so I try and jump in the play a little bit more."

Much like Savignac, Innes sees an up-tempo game as playing to the strength of the Minor Midget Wolves. 

"We've got to use our speed and capitalize on our chances," he said. "We had a lot of power-plays last weekend, but we couldn't score. We needed a little more urgency, more of a scoring mindset."

Skyler St. Pierre certainly hopes to contribute on the attack, creating chances, all while understanding the importance of a 200 foot game. 

"I try and make plays in the offensive zone, but defense obviously comes first," said the grade 10 student at Confederation Secondary.

"If you take care of the defensive zone, you'll come up the ice with the puck. Things will happen from there."

Like Savignac, St. Pierre is not all that concerned about not having a ton of familiarity, coming into the season, with St. Jacques and his staff.

"If you get drafted, you're going to have a new coach," he said. "If you get traded, you're going to have a new coach. If you play junior "A", you're going to have a new coach. They're all going to have a different style of play. You're just going to have to adjust to it. Follow their systems, do as they say, and you'll be fine."

And while St. Pierre has played, in the past, with many of his current teammates, his recent hockey treks has opened the door for some playful verbal jousting in the dressing rooms. 

"When I was in Barrie last year, everybody would joke around, call me a Sudbury kid," he said. "I come back here and they call me a Barrie kid. It just switches around all the time, but it's all in fun." 

If there is dressing room banter to be had, there's a pretty good chance that defenceman Owen Jalbert will be more of an observer than participant.

The 15-year-old grade 10 student at St. Charles College is among the more soft-spoken teenagers on this team. 

"I just try and keep everybody focused, keep them ready," he said. "But we talk hockey at school all the time, talk to guys I play with or play against."

Like all of this crew, Jalbert looks forward with anticipation to both the Titans Tournament, in general, and the match-up with Don Mills, more specifically. 

"We have to match their speed, forecheck them really hard, and make sure we've got a good back-check," he said. "We have to try and limit their quality shots on net. I'm excited for the first tournament - it's always fun. Lots of teams, lots of good teams, it wil be tough."

The Titans schedule finds Sudbury kicking things off Thursday night against the London Jr. Knights (8:30 p.m.), battling both Don Mills and the York Simcoe Express (7:15 p.m.) on Friday, and closing off preliminary action Saturday opposite the Kingston Jr. Frontenacs (11:30 a.m.).

The 2018-2019 edition of the Sudbury Minor Midget Wolves includes Alex Antoine, Bradley Brunet, Zacharie Giroux, Ethan Marois, Mitchell Martin, Max McCue, Devon Savignac, Chase Stillman, Skyler St. Pierre, Cameron Walker, Teagan Dumont, Brandon Hass, Chris Innes, Owen Jalbert, Josh Kavanaugh, Marco Vigna, and goaltenders Patrick Boivin and Jake Marois.

The Titans Tournament actually kicked off on Tuesday, as a number of the Toronto and area teams got an early start, helping to free up some ice later in the week for the out-of-town entries.

Scores, of note, included a 6-1 win for Don Mills over York Simcoe, while the Mississauga Rebels edged the Oakville Rangers 3-1, with former SMHA "AAA" talent Oliver Smith netting one of the goals for the Rebels.