‘You have to show up if you want to win’ — Cubs overcome slow start, stretch season-opening streak with win over Vikings

Greater Sudbury Cubs players Cameron Shanks (7), Hudson Chitaroni (93), Ben Harris (16), Brock Houser (19) and Hudson Martin (18) celebrate Chitaroni’s power-play goal against the Elliot Lake Vikings at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, September 28, 2023. PHOTO BY BEN LEESON/THE SUDBURY STAR/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Ben Leeson – The Sudbury Star

Cameron Shanks knows as well as anyone the kind of offensive firepower the Greater Sudbury Cubs can muster, being one third of a potent scoring line himself alongside Nolan Newton and Oliver Smith.

But while the Cubs are sure to post their share of one-sided wins this NOJHL season, just as they did in back-to-back nine-goal outings this past week, Shanks believes their closer contests, such as Thursday’s 5-2 victory over the Elliot Lake Vikings, may prove to be more important in the long run.

A 19-year-old winger from Lively who scored one goal and assisted on two others at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, Shanks was less than thrilled with his team’s first 40 minutes on Thursday, but was pleased with the way the Cubs responded after the hard-working Vikings tied things up in the middle frame.

“We didn’t play up to our standards, I didn’t think, for the first two periods,” Shanks told The Sudbury Star. “We were kind of sloppy, but as the game went on, we started to get our legs and started playing the right way. We were positionally OK through the game, but we weren’t making smart plays. Then we found our legs and started making smart plays.”

Smith, with two goals, Hudson Chitaroni and Ben Lacroix rounded out the scoring for Greater Sudbury, which stretched a franchise record with a seven-game win streak to open the season.

Max Ciesielski and Nathan Marincola tallied for the visitors just 28 seconds apart in the second stanza to keep things interesting, but the Vikings slid to 1-5-1-0.

“In this league, any team can come in and take a win, no matter what day it is,” Shanks said. “No matter who you’re playing, you’ve got to show up. Instead of being up by a couple of goals all the time, it’s nice to get that experience of playing in tight games.”

Hudson Chitaroni accepted a cross-crease pass from Shanks and lifted a puck over the blocker of Elliot Lake goaltender Sam Keene for a power-play goal, the rookie’s seventh marker of the season, at 12:54 of the opening period.

Ben Lacroix made it a two-goal game at 13:05 of the second when he walked into the slot and wired a puck past the Vikings netminder, but Ciesielski put the visitors on the board with a centring feed that went off a Greater Sudbury skater and into the back of Noah Metivier’s net at 15:14.

Ciesielski’s next setup attempt found a teammate, that being Marincola, who converted with a quick shot on a two-on-one rush at 15:42.

Smith responded almost as quickly, however, restoring the Cubs’ lead and their momentum by beating Keene on a breakaway, following a well-aimed pass from Newton, at 16:54.

“It took us a while, to be honest with you, to get to the kind of hockey we’ve become accustomed to the first four weeks of the season,” Cubs head coach Darryl Moxam said later. “It kind of showed a little bit yesterday in practice and we can’t fall into the mentality that we can just rely on our skill, so that’s something we’re focusing on. They’re aware of it, but I think it took a couple of periods tonight to get back to the way we want to play as a unit. All the credit in the world to Elliot Lake, because they just kept coming and I think, at times, and we tried to get a little too cute with the puck and turnovers cost us in the first two periods, but we found a way to clean that up.

“At the end of the day, you get goaltending like we have been and Tivs did a heck of a job keeping us in the game when we weren’t at our best, and we found a way in the third period to support him and help him out.”

Shanks emerged from the corner on a delayed penalty and fired his second of the season through traffic at 3:55 of the third.

“Shanksy has been unbelievable,” Moxam said of the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, who’s embarking on his third full season with the local junior A club. “He has elevated his game from last year and that’s the biggest difference so far — we have had a number of guys returning who have actually elevated their games, Shanksy being at the forefront of that. You look at a young man who goes to school today and had six, seven hours of class, then he comes here and finds a way to turn the switch and he plays the right way. That’s why he’s one of the main leaders on this hockey club and if we can follow his lead, with the rest of this leadership group, and we play like Cameron Shanks does night in and night out, we’re going to be a very successful hockey club.”

With 10 points in his first six games, Shanks is nearly a third of the way to equaling his total in 56 appearances in 2022-23, but the NOJHL veteran isn’t focused on his personal stat line.

“I have been trying to just stick to my game — hard-working, battling, banging bodies and making plays when I can,” he said. “I play with Smith and Newton now and they’re pretty skilled, so I’m just getting in there, making room and going from there.”

Smith added some extra insurance on Thursday with his team-leading ninth of the year at 15:48.

Final shots were 37-26 in favour of the Cubs, who can make it eight straight when they welcome the French River Rapids for a rare visit to Centennial Arena in Hanmer on Friday night.

Once again, however, Shanks doesn’t want to get too caught up in the numbers.

“It’s good, but it doesn’t change how we should approach any game,” he said of the Cubs’ current steak. “You have to show up if you want to win. Every game starts off 0-0, so you have to forget the last game. You define yourself with the game you’re playing right now.”

Game time on Friday is 7:05 p.m.