With virtually no comparable opposition in Northern Ontario, local squads often enter these events as their first taste of top-end competition, facing southern Ontario adversaries that are able to draw on 10 to 12 games of exhibition and regular-season play.
However, a simple adjustment to the expectations of coaching staffs is all that is needed, understanding that the learning curve will be a steep one. It took only two games for the Novice Rockhounds to acclimatize themselves last weekend in Innisfil, displaying some of the potential that lies within by the end of Game 3.
Understandably, the first matchup was an eye-opener as no less than six players have made the jump from the Tyke program one year ago. The Oakville Hawks took full advantage, posting a 10-2 win as Sam McCue and Brandon Roney replied in a losing cause for Sudbury, which trailed 4-1 and 7-1 after the first and second periods of play.
The Rockhounds were still a little shell-shocked facing the host Innisfil Wolfpack the next morning, trailing 4-0 after the opening frame but battling to the end in a 7-3 loss. Goaltender Kiaus Lalonde came up with big saves for the Sudbury crew, with Cameron Shanks, Ben Harris and Mason Lachance handling the offence as the Rockhounds played Innisfil dead even over the final two periods.
That momentum carried over to the final round-robin game for the northern lads, who took a 3-1 lead into the third period before settling for a 4-4 tie with the Milton Mavericks. Brek Morrow paced the attack for Sudbury with a two-goal effort, with McCue and Harris also hitting the scoresheet.
"Coming in to our first tournament of the season, the goal of the coaching staff was to get everyone's feet wet, and to start the road to provincials in August," acknowledged head coach Dave Lachance. "We were pleased with the progress the team made over the weekend, and will be working on getting ready for our Orillia tournament in June."