That Sudbury Sports Guy: Cubs bring different mind set into new NOJHL season

Greater Sudbury Cubs goalie Noah Metivier makes a save during NOJHL action against the Soo Thunderbirds at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, April 6, 2023. PHOTO BY BEN LEESON/THE SUDBURY STAR/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Randy Pascal for The Sudbury Star

A year ago this time, the Greater Sudbury Cubs were coming off a middle-of-the-pack season in 2021-22, sitting third in the NOJHL’s West Division and ranking seventh of 12 in league scoring.

Armed with a few key offensive acquisitions and implementing a fundamental mind set that they needed to outwork each and every opponent each and every night, the Cubs bolted to the top of their bracket last year, posting a record of 33-6-2-0 by late January.

Then things got interesting.

“I think last year we were a victim of our own success early on,” suggested head coach Darryl Moxam, back behind the bench for Year 2 of his sequel with the franchise, having also guided the team to a league title some 15 years ago.

The Cubs closed out regular-season play with a decent stretch (46-10-2-0), but were eliminated in their quest for a crown in five games by the second-place Soo Thunderbirds in the division final.

“There were many nights in the second half of the year where we were winning on skill alone,” Moxam said. “That is one thing that, 100 per cent, we are going to change. We expect to be a skilled hockey club, but we want to win games on our work ethic, our structure and our commitment to details, rather than just outscoring teams on skill alone on some nights.”

With a returning core that includes their 2022-23 netminding tandem of Noah Metivier and Noah Beaulne, a forward group of Oliver Smith, Samuel Assinewai, Cameron Walker, Cameron Shanks, Marshall McCharles and Ben Harris and a blueline starting point of Cole Quevillon and Chris Innes, plus NOJHL trade acquisitions Ben Lacroix and Brady Bouchard, it is clear that the cupboards are not bare — though not stacked as much as general manager Dave Clancy would have liked.

“We had to change our approach a little this off-season, because I wasn’t really expecting to lose 11 players from last year,” said the longtime local junior hockey fixture, who also serves as Greater Sudbury’s associate coach. “I was hoping to be around seven, but that’s the nature of the beast at this level of hockey. I will always move a player on to wherever he feels he needs to go to develop.

“I will never hold a player back.”

Thankfully, what he does return is a more than solid nucleus, including some prospects who are far more likely than not to show a nice leap in production this winter.

A 10th-round pick of the Sudbury Wolves in 2022, North Bay native Marshall McCharles is coming off a strong training camp with the big club, at this point simply a victim of the deepest roster of forwards the local OHL team has returned in years.

And with a freshman stat line of 30 points split evenly between goals and assists in his 57-game game NOJHL debut last year, there is plenty to build upon as McCharles strives to carve out a CHL junior hockey career.

“My finishing: I have to work on that,” suggested the 16 year-old winger, who might well make the switch over to centre after clocking in as the second-fastest skater at the Wolves’ rookie camp.

“I had tons of chances today; I just have to put the puck in the net,” McCharles added following Sunday’s 5-0 pre-season win over the Elliot Lake Vikings, a contest in which one could not miss the 6-foot-1 sophomore flying all over the ice.

That said, he understands there must be purpose in each stride.

“In the summertime, I worked really hard to get my speed up, but I don’t normally go full force all the time like a crazy guy,” he said. “I take my time. If I see a lane, then I try and go full force and make an opportunity of it.”

Nineteen-year-old goaltender Noah Metivier is equally cerebral in his approach to the game, coming off a season which featured sparkling numbers such as a 19-5 record, 2.01 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, but still left the Sault Ste. Marie native wanting more.

“I would like to stay more consistent,” noted the uber-friendly puck-stopper, who was acquired last fall from the Lindsay Muskies after leading his hometown T-Birds to a league championship in 2021-22. “I had a few ups and then downs and a few ups again last year. I need to keep getting better every day.”

And like most goalies, Metivier needs to ensure he is equipped with a mental framework designed to provide an even keel and level of comfort, even if it requires thinking a little outside of the box.

“I try and prepare the same every night, especially my superstitions,” Metivier noted with a smile. “I have a lot of those. I try and keep my head in the game and play the same way every night — and then we’ll get the outcome we want.”

The Cubs are pulling no punches regarding exactly what they envision that outcome to be.

“We’re obviously going after a championship this year again,” Clancy said.

In this regard, both coach and GM are marching exactly in lockstep.

“I thought we were a pretty skilled hockey club last year, but we were pretty young and our D weren’t quite mobile enough,” Clancy said.

“I would like our D to be a little more part of the offence,” Moxam agreed. “Come playoff time this year, that has to be second nature.”

On the attack comes the need to focus on elements that play well in the playoffs.

“The Olympic-sized ice at times can be a curse,” Moxam said. “Guys do like to play in open space, but guys need to realize that to score goals, we do have to take pucks to the net. That was probably the No. 1 thing I have tried to put into the guys’ heads here in the first week — and it’s showing already.

“And we want to try and be a little bit older come playoff time, a little more experienced.”

All in good time.

“Up front, we have all season to worry about that,” Clancy noted.

After all, an incredible first half of the season doesn’t mean a whole lot if it’s not followed by post-season success. To a man, the Greater Sudbury Cubs understand that far more than a year ago this time.

Randy Pascal is That Sudbury Sports Guy. His column runs regularly in The Sudbury Star.