Last year, the team went into the tournament really not knowing what to expect. It didn't take long before they gelled and put together a stretch of games that led to the championship. A number of players also rose to the challenge to lead the team, including Michael Kantor who went on to be named the tournament MVP.
The questions this year: A) How will the Wolves do? B) Who will turn out to be the team leaders? C) How will the tournament prepare them for the 2013-14 OHL regular season?
The Wolves might be a little more prepared for the calibre of teams they will be facing, but there are still plenty of unknowns. However, as the Wolves showed last year, that doesn’t mean you can’t have success.
It is in situations like this when a team can really work on its systems. And, if things work out, it can be good news on two fronts — both at the tournament and then when the team returns home.
It will be interesting to see who this year’s Michael Kantor will be. There is no shortage of candidates on this team: veterans who are expected to be the leaders on the club; the so-called grinders, who could take advantage of the spotlight; the younger players, who will be looking to make a name for themselves.
The consensus after the team returned home with the gold medal last year was that winning was nice, but not as important as the opportunity to learn how to win. You can have a coach work as hard as he can to get his message across, but there is no substitute for a player going out on the ice, performing under intense pressure at a high level and realizing what it takes to win.
I had the chance to take in the Wolves practices this week before they flew out to Russia and it was interesting to hear how excited they were to be going back to defend their title. Every player I talked to said winning was the goal — there wasn’t anyone treating this as a holiday. Instead, they were honoured to be representing Canada.
The tournament is also being used as a chance for the team to bond. There is no better way to get to know a teammate than by spending 24 hours a day together for 10 days.
Another benefit is the chance for players to get to know the new coaching staff, and for the coaches to see what they have to work with.
Head Coach Paul Fixter says he’s excited about Russia, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As far as expectations go, he’s taking a wait and see approach. He wants everyone to have fun, but at the same he wants to see how players react to certain game situations.
Fixter says when you hit the ice the competitive juices tend to take over and winning is always the objective, but returning home healthy will be the top priority.
Just like it did a year ago, training camp will get underway a couple of weeks earlier than it does for most teams in the league, and the Wolves will get a chance to get a jump on their competition.
Again, there is no substitute to learning how to win and doing it in August could go a long way to playoff success in March and April.
Stew Kernan is the radio and television voice of the Sudbury Wolves, and the news director at EZ Rock and Q92. This column appears every other week in Northern Life.