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Thursday, May. 24, 2018
Midget Lady Wolves make the long voyage to Vermont
by Randy Pascal

The Sudbury Midget "AA" Lady Wolves are making a return to the mountains of Vermont.

After opting not to enter the traditional NAHA (North American Hockey Academy) Labour Day Tournament last year, first year midget coach Jay Duncan and company have jumped back in, full force, registering in the U19 division.

The competition, which kicks off on Friday in Burlington (Vermont), will see the Lady Wolves battle the Islanders Hockey Club (North Andover, Massachusetts), Little Caesars (Detroit) and the Burlington Barracudas of the PWHL (Provincial Women's Hockey League).

All but four players on the team will be experiencing this event for the first time. A member of the high-powered 2015-2016 Midget "AA" crew, defenceman Makayla Blanchard suited up with the North Bay Midget "AA" Ice Boltz last year, returning home for her final season of minor hockey this fall.

And she, for one, had no issue recalling the memories of NAHA. "Honestly, one of the best parts has got to be the bus ride," she noted, just prior to practice earlier this week at the Cambrian Arena.

"You're in there, with the girls, for 12 hours - it's a pretty long ride. The rookies will have some singing to do. It's a good warm-up tournament." One of just two 2000-born players on the Wolves - Kiana Verbiwski is the other - Blanchard enters the 2017-2018 season with a dramatically different outlook than her first year of midget hockey.

"As a rookie, I wasn't nearly as outgoing," she said. "Now, I'm more confident with the puck. I've had (ass't coach) Mike (McGaughey) before as a coach, so I know what to expect." Given that this year's squad enters the season expecting to rank among the Midget "AA" contenders in the province, Blanchard also has words of caution, after playing with the '15-'16 team that won pretty much everything there was to win, before being eliminated in the quarter-finals at provincials.

"It doesn't matter how well you do during the regular season, it all comes down to provincials," said Blanchard. "We didn't make it as far as we thought we were going to, and that was a real eye opener. You can't let your guard down, you have to keep pushing through, working hard all of the time."

Forward Jenna Miller is one of a handful of returnees to the team, players who endured an tough injury-filled campaign which would see Sudbury finish in last place in the Central Division of the LLFHL with a record of 1-19-2.

Still, like the others, Miller hopes to translate the learnings from that experience into a much better season in her sophomore year. "I'm a taller girl, so I definitely have some size out there, especially with my skates on," she said.

"It tends to help in winning battles along the boards. As a winger, that's really important in our zone, getting the puck out." While Miller might never have attended the NAHA tournament before, she certainly has heard the stories from those who have played.

"I'm really excited to see the age group that we can compete at, given that it is U19," she said. "I look forward to competing at a higher level, seeing how we stack up among the other teams. Hopefully, we can compete with them."

Second year midget goaltender Natania King will lean on the experience of a very memorable stretch of summer hockey to help ensure that she is ready to face opponents who are a clear step up from the bulk of midget "AA" teams the Lady Wolves will face this year.

Just celebrating her 16th birthday, King recently returned from a two-week excursion with the World Selects, competing in a tournament in Germany that also drew entries from the likes of Russia, Hungary, Slovakia and Italy.

"I really enjoyed myself, so much, playing against Russia," she said. "Their level of hockey was so good. They are taught a lot more to be fancy, to try and dangle in tight to the goalie. They're not used to just taking shots."

The overseas trip proved equal portion hockey and life experience, as the teams shared accomodation venues. "I made a lot of Slovakian friends," said King. "We went out with them, met up for dinner with them, and now I have them all as friends on Snapchat."

One half of a goaltending tandem that surrendered 67 goals in 22 regular season games, last year, King now finds herself much better equipped to deal with the inevitable challenges that come with the position. "I'm more mature, I've calmed down, I don't get angry after every goal," she said with a smile. "And my hands, my hand-eye co-ordination, is better."

Rounding out the balance of the 2017-2018 roster, for the Midget "AA" Lady Wolves, are Mireille Kingsley, Jaiden Duncan, Madison Laberge, Abbey Patterson, Myah Fillion, Crystale Trottier, Makayla Gratton, Lauren Hancock. Joelle Dubois, Madisyn Papineau, Katie Chomiak, Hannah Smith, Deseray Zazulak, Taylor Scott and Kiana Verbiwski.

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