PHOTO BY BEN LEESON/THE SUDBURY STAR/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Just one week into a new NOJHL season, even the most promising teams have only begun to fine-tune what they hope will be a well-oiled machine come playoff time.
That even goes for the Greater Sudbury Cubs, who have made no secret of their desire to push for a league title in 2023-24, and who have certainly shown no shortage of offensive acumen during a season-opening three-game win streak, with five goals or more in each of those outings.
An 8-4 win over the Soo Eagles on Thursday night, if not quite as tightly played defensively as head coach Darryl Moxam and his staff will demand as the post-season approaches, left Cubs captain Oliver Smith with few complaints.
“We played the right way,” said Smith, who was credited with three goals on Thursday to push his league-leading point total to nine in only three games. “We played well defensively towards the end of the first, in the second and in the third, and that turned into good offence for us. I think if we just keep doing that, we’ll be successful offensively.”
The Soo was a game opponent for much of the evening, striking back each time the locals regained their lead at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, but back-to-back goals by Ben Harris and Nolan Newton in the third period finally put things out of reach.
Hudson Martin, Marshall McCharles and Brock Houser also scored, Cameron Shanks had two assists and Noah Beaulne made 20 saves for the Cubs, who will round out the week with a visit to the Powassan Voodoos on Saturday.
Kenny Belanger Jr., twice, Benjamin Pouliot and Jack Paweski had goals for the Eagles, while Marino Ramirez made 25 saves and Anthony Zolezzi two for the visitors.
“I’m good buddies with everyone in the room and chemistry’s always better when you’re playing with guys you’re good friends with,” Smith said. “It makes it easy on the ice when you can just have some fun out there. It’s not too serious and you’re just playing out there with your buddy.”
Rookie rearguard Martin opened the scoring just 3:52 into the contest, when the Sudbury Wolves prospect converted on a feed from McCharles for the second goal of his young junior career.
Belanger responded for the Eagles at 9:25 to send the teams to their dressing rooms tied after 20 minutes.
An offensive outburst in the second saw Smith, just 57 seconds in, exchange goals with Belanger, at 3:09, before Greater Sudbury’s captain added his second of the night at 3:42 to pull his team in front once again.
With turnovers and two-on-one rushes sprinkled throughout a middle frame in which the teams each recorded 12 shots, Pouliot was the beneficiary who scored on a pass from Paweski at 5:20. McCharles finished off a pretty passing play with Newton and Cameron Walker, however, to restore a one-goal advantage for the Cubs at 9:42.
Things stayed closed until Smith, who finished on a wraparound attempt by Shanks at the five-minute mark of the third, and Houser, who tallied his first as Cub on a screened point shot only nine seconds later, gave the hosts what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
The Eagles did try, with Paweski beating Beaulne only 13 seconds after Houser’s marker, but Harris buried a rebound at 7:57 and Newton found a low corner with a shot off the rush at 10:28 to dash any hopes of a Soo comeback, even as the game became increasingly chippy in the final few minutes.
“There’s going to be games where it gets a little out of hand and I think the important thing is to play our game and not get too caught up in other stuff going on, off the ice or between the whistles,” Smith said. “We just want to play our style of hockey.”