One of the better season-long rivalries within the Great North Midget League kicked off Wednesday night at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, with the visitors leaving with a convincing 5-1 win over the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves.
The Sooites busted open a 1-1 first-period tie, scoring two goals in each of the last two periods while goaltender Brian Kment and a solid team effort helped shut the door on the defending provincial champions.
"We need games like this, we need to be pushed," Sault Ste. Marie head coach Mike Hall said, adding that the North Stars are preparing to host the 2013 Telus Cup (National Midget AAA Championships) in April.
"I was very pleased overall with our defensive zone coverage," Hall added. "We had one breakdown in the first period that cost us a goal. But we had some kids that back-checked really hard tonight, and to me, that was the biggest difference."
While Hall and his coaching compatriot in the home dressing room don't necessarily see eye to eye on all hockey-related matters, they certainly seemed to share a similar impression of this head-to-head battle.
"The one thing we were disappointed with our kids is that we got outworked," said Peter Michelutti Jr. of his Sudbury troops. "They had more compete level than us, and that's what gave them the momentum for much of the game."
After Kyle Fransen (Sudbury) and Ryan Vendramin (Soo) traded first-period goals, the North Stars created a game-changing gap, scoring twice in less than a minute midway through the middle stanza.
Cody Caron capped off a three-way passing play with the teams playing four-on-four, with defenceman Brandon Grandinetti wristing a shot from the point with the man advantage just 50 seconds later as Sault Ste. Marie took a 3-1 lead into the second period intermission.
Any chance of a Sudbury comeback was quelled in the latter stages as Matt Pinder beat Nickel Caps netminder Andrew Lefebvre at 4:52 of the third, with linemate Anthony Stefano scoring a beauty some 10 minutes later, redirecting a lovely feed from Pinder.
With forwards Dylan Callaghan, Andrew Dodge and Owen Fransen all not in the lineup due to injury, Michelutti was more than prepared to tip his hat to a formidable foe.
"(Sault Ste. Marie) is going to be one of the better teams, not only in the league, but also in the province," Michelutti Jr. said. "This was a good measuring stick.
"I thought we played very well with them in the first period," he added. "We were short — only eight forwards — and it definitely takes a toll against a deep team like that. But no excuses, they outworked us, they made the smart plays and put the puck in the net when they got the chances."
The Nickel Capital Wolves will look to get back on the winning track with a three-game northern swing this coming weekend that includes stops in New Liskeard, Kirkland Lake and Kapuskasing.
The North Stars, meanwhile, return home to host the Nickel City Sons for a pair of games in the Lock City. The Sons have inched closer to a complete roster, signing 16-year-old North Bay blueliner Brodey Bilton-McLeod this week.