Greater Sudbury Cubs open season on winning note

Greater Sudbury Cubs goaltender Noah Metivier (31) makes a save while Hearst Lumberjacks forward Tyler Patterson (16) looks for a rebound and Cubs defenceman Hudon Martin (18) defends during NOJHL action at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, September 7, 2023. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network jpg, SU, apsmc

They notch a 7-4 win over the Hearst Lumberjacks at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex

Ben LeesonThe Sudbury Star

Even before they took control on the ice in their home opener on Thursday night, the Greater Sudbury Cubs had taken control behind the scenes, starting with a leadership group determined to both build and improve upon last year’s performance.

“There’s a major difference between last year and this year, with the core group of guys we have back,” said Cubs head coach Darryl Moxam, shortly after his team opened the NOJHL regular season with a 7-4 win over the Hearst Lumberjacks at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex. “Some of the little habits came back pretty quickly. When you walk in the dressing room and you have veteran leadership saying defence first, boys, going into the third period tonight, they’re going to make life real easy for us on the staff this year. Their mentality just seems to be we’ve got unfinished business.”

Cameron Walker and Samuel Assinewai each scored twice, while Marshall McCharles had a goal and three assists and Hudson Chitaroni a goal and two helpers in his Cubs debut as the home side came out on top in a back-and-forth affair on Thursday. Ben Lacroix also found the back of the net and Noah Metivier made 36 saves for Greater Sudbury, which was to attempt to improve to 2-0 in a visit from the Timmins Rock on Friday night.

“Individually, if you look at tonight’s effort, the defence was moving pucks quickly and we’ve only had a couple of practices to get some of the systems in place, but they were doing a heck of a job,” Moxam said. “I love the speed up front. You look at Marshall’s line and (Assinewai’s) line and (Kohan’s) line and there’s a lot of speed up front and if we’re going to play the right way with that type of speed, we’ll be a hard team to stop.

“We understand it’s only Game 1 and we’re building towards something by the end of the year and it’s a step-by-step process, but it’s just a good start by the guys in that room.”

Rookies make an impression

Signed by the Cubs earlier in the summer, then by the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves just last week, Chitaroni made his presence felt almost immediately by taking part in a pretty passing play with Zachary Major and McCharles that resulted in the latter’s goal at 4:19 of the opening frame.

Owen Hey replied for Hearst just 38 seconds later, but Chitaroni restored the Cubs’ lead when he tipped a feed from fellow 16-year-old Hudson Martin, another Wolves draft choice, past Hearst starter Tristan Boileau at 6:17.

“I thought they were outstanding,” Moxam said of Chitaroni and Martin. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find two 16-year-olds who have higher hockey IQs than the two we have and that was obviously on display tonight. I don’t mean just offensively — it was also some of the subtle little maneuvers to escape traffic. In the third period, I asked Chitter to be on the defensive side of the puck and he did a great job. You look at the end of the first and Marty kills the play late by throwing one of their guys into the end boards. If that’s what we’re going to get from our 16-year-olds, I couldn’t be any more ecstatic.”

After an evenly played second frame, the Lumberjacks turned up the pressure late in the period and, after they missed on a couple of Grade-A chances, Tyler Patterson roofed a puck past Metivier at 15:05. Once again, however, the Cubs were able to reply quickly as Walker tipped home a shot by Brady Bouchard only 25 seconds later, then converted on a feed by McCharles with four minutes remaining in the frame to give the hosts a 4-2 lead after 40.

“There’s still some adjustments we’ve got to make, but we’ll take that result and that performance every day of the week,” Walker said. “Our new guys stepped up, our old guys showed them how it’s done and we’re going to need more of that all season long.”

Veterans take control

He’s proud to be counted among the 20-year-old veterans, along with the likes of Oliver Smith, Chris Innes and Cole Quevillon, who have taken charge in the dressing room in the manner so approvingly described by their head coach.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have been in this room for a while and we feel like it’s our room,” Walker said. “We control the environment and it’s always a good environment, making everyone feel welcome. That’s what a winning culture is like and that’s the way it needs to be.”

He was thrilled on Thursday with how his younger teammates responded.

“We couldn’t ask for anything more from them so far,” Walker added. “Obviously, we’re still going to need to make adjustments throughout the year, but it’s definitely a strong start for them.”

Foiled on a couple of earlier opportunities, Assinewai roofed a rebound just 1:55 into the third. Lacroix’s goal at 14:52 sent several fans to the exits early, but the Lumberjacks did not go quietly as Maddoc Newton scored only 38 seconds afterward, only for Assinewai to deposit another rebound at 15:43.

Patterson added a power-play goal at 18:53, but the outcome was all but assured.

“We have kind of a basis for our system right now, but we’re always looking to add more stuff, like we did last year,” Walker said. “We want to make it harder to play against us.”

Twitter: @ben_leeson