Come this Thursday, a parade of 10 teams representing the Sudbury Lady Wolves will make their way to a variety of rinks strewn across the Greater Toronto Area, the annual crusade that is the OWHA provincial championships.
The reality for the vast majority of the local entries, and their counterparts across the province, for that matter, is that they will not be returning home as Ontario medal winners. A favourable outcome will have to be measured in something that is perhaps slightly different than just their win-loss record.
That is likely the case for head coach Brent Assinewai and the peewee AA Lady Wolves. The team is one of 24 squads entered in a division where the top Sudbury entry would self-categorize within the A bracket, provincially, even as recently as just a decade or so ago.
Add one more A to the mix and the northern crew are up against the very best in Ontario, their first encounter on Friday opposite a Stoney Creek Sabres squad that ran the table in Lower Lakes Female Hockey League play, posting a record of 22-0-0 and outscoring their opponents 80-11.
Yes, these Lady Wolves are in tough.
“We’ve been working on getting them to believe in themselves and having that trust in each other, trying to build on that right now, and you can see it happening, which is good, going into provincials,” said Assinewai, following a 3-1 win over the Soo Wildcats Sunday morning at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex.
“For the past week, week and a half, the girls are changing, in a good way. They’re actually starting to believe. A lot of light bulbs went off.”
The team is an interesting mix of veterans and newcomers. Forward Maija Potvin, a Grade 7 student at Lo-Ellen Park and author of the first Sudbury goals versus the Cats, is one of a small handful of returnees who suited up with the peewee AA Lady Wolves last year.
“I was able to learn more from people that were older than me, and I was able to bring it up to my next year,” said Potvin, who recently celebrated her 13th birthday.
Paying it forward, she is hoping that the first-year peewees, who are her teammates this year, carry their knowledge with them as key cogs for the 2019-20 version of this team.
“I find that with the girls being older than me, I find that I have to challenge myself to keep up with them, it pushes me to make myself better,” noted forward Kynlee Cresswell, one of only four girls with this crew who were born in 2007. “We’re going to have a few leaders, because we’ve been in this position before.
“Next year, we can be the leaders and help them out and show them stuff. When I didn’t know something, they were able to show me. Hopefully, I can do that next year.”
Before that, however, comes the excitement of provincials, even with teams which may not rank among the pre-tournament gold medal favourites. “It’s the end of the year, so you want to play extra hard,” said Potvin. “Everything that you’ve learned all year, you want to bring it to provincials.”
No need for head coach Jay Duncan to stress that point with his Sudbury midget AA Lady Wolves, one of the local entries who could absolutely still be playing on Final Four Sunday, April 7. Win or lose, his team moves on, already assured of their spot at the 2019 Esso Cup by virtue of the fact that the event is being hosted at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex, from April 21 to 27.
The midget girls are definitely readying themselves with some top-end competition this weekend, having battled from behind to earn the LLFHL East Division entry into Championship Weekend. The Sudbury girls dropped game one of their divisional finals, 3-0, to the Toronto Aeros, but scored late in game two to earn a 2-2 tie, forcing a third and deciding game. Taylor Scott scored with 24 second to play.
With a regulation 2-1 win the next day, the Lady Wolves knotted their series with the Aeros at three points apiece, forcing an overtime session to decide a winner. Roughly five minutes in, defenceman and Nipissing Lakers prospect Madison Laberge drilled home the game-winning tally, allowing her team to play one more set of important games before provincials.
Battling at the Chesswood Arena, the midgets were reminded of just how narrow the margin is between victory and defeat, especially in girls hockey, as they were edged 1-0 by the Mississauga Chiefs, kicking off round robin-play Saturday afternoon.
Later that evening, the Lady Wolves bounced back for a 2-0 win over Kingston Ice Wolves, with Madison Laberge and Alexe Clavelle providing the offence, and Cailen Hanzlik recording the shutout.
More of the same come Sunday morning as Sudbury overpowered the Saugeen-Maitland Lightning 5-0, with five different players lighting the lamp. Katie Chomiak, Mylene Lefebvre, Alexe Clavelle, Madisyn Papineau and Elizabeth Laberge all found the back of the net for the locals, while Mireille Kingsley posted the clean slate at the opposite end of the rink.
In the end, the Lady Wolves came up just a little short, beaten by Mississauga in the rematch, 3-2 in overtime. The silver lining, for coach Duncan and company, is that no midget AA team has ever captured the LLFHL title and also gone on to win gold at the OWHA playdowns.
And provincials, come this time of year, is really what it’s all about
Randy Pascal is That Sudbury Sports Guy. His column runs regularly in The Sudbury Star.