Sudbury swept a two-game set from the Sault Ste. Marie Wildcats as the teams met in Blind River on Sunday, edging their northern rivals 2-1 in the opener before really hitting their stride with a 5-0 whitewashing of the Soo in game two.
Considering the games marked the Midget AA debut for no less than six first-year midget rookies, as well as the absence of veteran sniper Eve Boissonneault, who was attending Team Ontario tryouts over the weekend, the results were encouraging for coaches Tim Stortini and Tim Armstrong.
"We were pleasantly surprised," Stortini said after the afternoon double-header. "I really liked our conditioning and the way we came into camp in shape at the beginning of the year. The skill level is quite impressive already.
"I like our offensive capabilities moreso than last year," Stortini added. "We have a lot of room to grow, which is good to see, too. It's a young team, but they seem to be willing to learn and we're excited about that."
The Lady Wolves opened the scoring late in the first period of the opening game as Karli Shell made a great pass that Teagan Moxam buried with just eight seconds showing on the clock.
While Sudbury did a nice job of limiting Wildcat opportunities, the Sooites did manage to capitalize on one chance in tight, deadlocking the contest at one with a goal-crease redirection.
But with just under six minutes to play in the middle stanza, Kennedy Lanktree did the bulk of the legwork in deep, along the boards, before finding Stephanie Legault who connected on the one-timer.
Solid play by the defensive back six and goaltender Stephanie Pascal made it stand in the one-goal victory.
With three more reinforcements, who were committed to soccer, arriving in time for game two for Sault Ste. Marie, the Wildcats showed some early jump in the rematch two hours later.
Holding on through a scoreless first period, the Lady Wolves' offence exploded through the final 28 minutes. Kathleen Bertuzzi set the wheels in motion, taking a nifty backhand pass from Jenna Gough and going five-hole for the ice-breaker.
Roughly four minutes later, a point blast from Megan Burt was turned aside but Gough jumped all over the juicy rebound, doubling the advantage. The onslaught continued as Lanktree stepped out, unimpeded from the corner, and made no mistake in giving Sudbury a 3-0 lead before the end of period two.
The Lady Wolves increased the lead to four goals as Legault spotted Shell alone in the slot, with the Lively native roofing a wrist shot for the team's first power-play goal of the year.
With the Wildcats taking advantage of pre-season play to test out "pulling their goalie," Sudbury rounded out the attack as Victoria Pitawanakwat made no mistake, hitting the back of the empty cage.
Goaltender Emily Toffoli-Henderson turned aside all 16 shots she faced, looking particularly sharp in the early going in recording the shutout.
With a pair of wins under their belts, the ladies prepare for the North American Hockey Academy Tournament in Burlington, Vermont over the Labour Day long weekend. While most of the girls are making their first appearance at the well-scouted event, this marks the third trip for Armstrong and Stortini.
"With the shorter games, you have to be ready to play," Stortini said. "It will be stiff competition, because it's U-19 and our girls will get a good eye-opening. I think it's really going to help us set the tone for Stoney Creek."
Sudbury is among the 40-team field set to battle it out at the 8th Annual Stoney Creek Midget AA Showcase the very next weekend, with a lineup of teams that includes the likes of the Toronto Aeros, Thunder Bay Queens, Chicago Young Americans, Pittburgh Elite, North Bay Ice Boltz and Weyburn (Saskatchewan) Southern Range Gold Wings.
"We're going to be ready for that, as opposed to previous years where it was our first tournament and it was a learning process," Stortini said. "Right out of the gate, we hope to be good to go."