It wasn’t all that difficult to track down a wide and varied representation of the Sudbury and area hockey landscape, all while catching up with a third of the field that will vie for the McNamara Trophy this year.
The notion of a centralized showcase event in Sudbury makes sense on so many levels for the NOJHL. The reality is that it goes far beyond the obvious, the chance to gather the league’s talent, from all 12 teams, in a singular location, an ideal setting for the various scouts and coaches of post-secondary schools who attend.
The reality is that Sudbury is also highly centralized when it comes to a mid-point, for travel purposes, for the vast majority of the franchises in the junior A loop. Furthermore, there is likely not a single NOJHL entry that does not include some sort of cross-connection to the Nickel City, be it through current players, staff members, administrators, fans and parents.
The third annual NOJHL Showcase, which has partnered, once again, with the folks at the Canadian Mental Health Association Sudbury/Manitoulin Branch, has monopolized the bulk of the ice time at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex the past few days. The event allowed all 12 teams to complete in a pair of encounters that are part and parcel of the NOJHL regular season schedule.
Given that lay of the land, it wasn’t all that difficult to track down a wide and varied representation of the Sudbury and area hockey landscape, all while catching up with a third of the field that will vie for the McNamara Trophy this year.
Shawn Frappier enjoys at least a pair of strong ties to the local hockey community, having suited up for nearly 100 games as a member of the Sudbury Wolves and, years later, his days of professional hockey behind him, throwing himself into the AAA coaching ranks in this region.
That is the resume that the 43-year-old Sudbury native carries with him as he attempts to guide the French River Rapids to a post-season berth in 2018-19. Taking over behind the bench this fall, inheriting a squad that posted a record of 13-38-5-0 last season, Frappier has seen his club remain far more competitive, game in and game out, despite posting a record of 1-10-1-0 out of the gate.
On Tuesday, his lads rewarded their new coach with a 3-2 victory over the Soo Eagles, courtesy of goals from Marc-Andre Quevillon, Ryan Smith and Alex Paul, and a commitment to the very same priorities that Frappier has preached at pretty much every level of the sport.
“Other than the speed of the game, the game hasn’t really changed that much,” he said. “It’s all of the little things – paying the price, stopping on the puck, driving the net. It’s just a matter of enforcing these items with these guys. To play at the next level, it’s not about talent, most of the time.”
Boarding the Express
A member of the Sudbury minor midget AAA Wolves one year ago, Chase Lammi faced the very same decision-making process that the vast majority of similar local players have endured over the past six or seven years, dealing with the reality that their OHL dreams might take some more work, passed over in the draft in their 15-year-old season.
In the end, Lammi opted to sign on with the Espanola Express, foregoing the opportunity to return for one final crack at the midget ranks.
“I wanted to play junior because I know that it’s faster and definitely a step up from major midget,” he said. “I thought I could improve and it would benefit me more than playing major midget.”
That debate is admittedly a contentious one, but with nine points in his first 13 games, leading the Express in scoring at the moment, it would be hard to suggest that in this particular case, the decision was a bad one.
“I think I’ve been playing well,” he said. “I’ve really been keeping my head up and making good plays. I’ve been putting some points on the board, which I am happy with. I’ve just got to keep going.”
Trying to improve
Local defenceman Brandon Atkins is also at a crossroads, again, in his hockey career. More than a year removed from being selected by the Saginaw Spirit in the fourth round of the recently created U18 draft, the local blueliner survived right down to the very last cuts this fall with the Acadie-Bathurst Titans of the QJMHL.
No surprise that the Rayside-Balfour Canadians were more than willing to welcome Atkins back with open arms, the smooth-skating 18-year-old having piled up 21 points in 47 games in his rookie campaign in the NOJHL. Still, coming back is never easy.
“I was at those camps to make major-junior teams,” said Atkins on Wednesday. “Coming back here is obviously disappointing, but I am just trying to improve every day, win for this team and eventually get to that level.”
Atkins would open the scoring and play a key role in a big 3-2 win as the Canadians handed the Powassan Voodoos their first loss in regulation time. The contest left the well-spoken prospect feeling good about both his own play, as well as that of his team.
“I thought I made really good decisions today, making stuff happen out there, looking for back door plays, helping create a lot of scoring chances,” he said. “As a team, after the first five minutes, we were a well-oiled machine, passing the puck well, dumping it deep, retrieving it, hitting guys.”
Baldino Aiello is a Sudbury product by hockey adoption only, so to speak. The native of Thunder Bay was a member of the Rayside-Balfour Canadians throughout their NOJHL West Division championship playoff run last spring, before being moved to the Cochrane Crunch in the off-season.
“I didn’t really know what was going to happen at the end of last year, whether I would get moved or stay,” he said, shortly after netting a third-period hat trick on Tuesday evening, leading the Crunch to a 5-2 win over the Elliot Lake Wildcats. “Ultimately, I ended up getting moved to Cochrane and, you know what, the guys made it a really easy transition, made me feel really at home.”
Despite the offensive outburst, Aiello does not expect to stray too far away from the calling cards of his game after racking up 13 goals and six assists in 53 games with Rayside last year.
“I’m more of a defensive-minded forward,” he said. “My role is to shut guys down more than score, but some nights, you just get lucky.”
Randy Pascal is That Sudbury Sports Guy. Read his column twice per week in The Sudbury Star.