With a pre-season gold medal already under their belts, the Sudbury Wolves head coach is hoping that momentum will carry the team into the OHL season.
"It jump-starts our season," Trent Cull said. "The last two years, our starts haven't been our strong points, so hopefully this will help us build on our start and make it better."
The Pack just proved they could compete with any team in the world. Representing Sudbury, the OHL and Canada, the Wolves took the gold medal at the second annual Junior Club World Cup, staged in Omsk, Siberia Aug. 18 to 26.
After navigating their way through the round-robin portion of the tournament with a 2-1-0-1 record, the Wolves found themselves in an all-North American final against the USHL Waterloo Blackhawks.
Heading into the final period tied at zero, the Pack found some momentum at the eight-minute mark when forward Josh Leivo scored an unassisted marker, followed — 35 seconds later — by an insurance goal on the power play by blueliner Frank Corrado. Joel Vienneau earned the shutout in net with 42 saves.
Cull described the final game as "playoff hockey in August."
"That was probably one of the best hockey games we have played in a long time," the coach said. "It was end-to-end action."
Leivo, 19, led the tournament in goal-scoring, with 11 points (six goals, five assists) in six games. Forward Michael Kantor was voted as the tournament's top forward, after "leading the team offensively and defensively with some thunderous hits," a press release stated.
Hopefully, this is the right recipe to put us off on the right foot moving forward.
Sudbury Wolves head coach
Heading into the tournament cold, Cull said he let the players lay down their own expectations.
"My real expectations are going to start when we get back for the season," he said. "We just walked through everything and talked about it as we went.
"The more we got involved with the tournament, the more all of us wanted to be a part of it and do the best we could."
Losing an exhibition game to the Red Army team from Moscow — the reigning tournament champions — Cull said "it just solidified how good the teams were going to be."
"We came in the next night ... and had a real good game against Finland," he said. "I think from there, we realized we could do well if we played decent every night.
"From that strong win against Finland (9-1), we gained a lot of confidence and we got better as the tournament went on."
Cull said the calibre of hockey was right on par with the OHL.
"As coaches and staff, we couldn't believe how good the hockey was at such an early juncture."
Cull said he was impressed with his team's performance, and that the players have come a long way since he took the helm as head coach.
"If we had done it a couple years ago, we would have been in trouble. But we're finally getting to a point where our team is a little bit more of age, and they know how to play through my expectations.
"I thought the older guys did a great job of leading the way and the younger guys just followed suit," he added.
In fact, the Wolves were the only team in the tournament to have 16-year-old players on their roster.
Overall, the on- and off-ice experience was a positive team-building opportunity, Cull said.
"I think putting them on a plane and travelling halfway across the world was a big part to start," he said with a laugh. "It was a great experience. We feel very fortunate to (have done) it.
"Hopefully, this is the right recipe to put us off on the right foot moving forward."
Wolves president Blaine Smith said "fans are in for an exciting season" this year.
"We wanted to gauge our players and our team at this tournament and it was great to see how the boys came together so quickly and elevated their game against some of the top junior teams," he said.
The Wolves will hit the ice this weekend for training camp, beginning Sept. 1 at the Sudbury Arena. The annual Blue and White game is scheduled for Sept. 3 at 9:30 a.m. Admission is free.