Greater Sudbury Cubs forward Nolan Newton takes part in OHL action again the French River Rapids at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Thursday, October 26, 2023. PHOTO BY BEN LEESON/THE SUDBURY STAR/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Nolan Newton has enjoyed a stellar start to his second season of junior hockey, but it was only this week that he could eliminate a major off-ice distraction and focus more fully on his on-ice performance — a daunting development, perhaps, for his opponents in the months to come.
Newton, the skilled 17-year-old forward from French River whose point production for the Greater Sudbury Cubs has been among the very best in all of Canadian junior A hockey, confirmed his commitment on Monday to the Barrie Colts, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2022 OHL Priority Selection.
He joined his new team immediately and was expected to suit up for action this week, wearing No. 16.
“It has been in the back of my head for a while now, but I’m just really glad to be here, playing and having fun with the boys,” Newton told The Sudbury Star on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s a great group of guys and everyone is pretty tight, so it’s nice.”
While he has long dreamed of playing in the OHL, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Newton would pursue the major-junior route, even in recent weeks, as there was also strong interest from NCAA recruiters. But a torrid start to the NOJHL campaign with Greater Sudbury, which saw the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder shoot to the top of the national scoring race with 39 points in only 17 games, only hardened the Colts’ resolve to add Newton to its already impressive pool of 2006-born talent.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders, in the sense that I had to choose one of the paths now,” he explained. “Now that I have made my decision, I can play to my full potential, without having to worry about anything.”
Barrie’s program came highly recommended by Cubs teammates Oliver Smith and Josh Kavanagh, each of whom suited up for the Colts before returning to the Nickel City to pursue an NOJHL title as 20-year-olds.
“Barrie’s a great organization,” Newton said. “The OHL is where I have wanted to play since I was four years old.”
Much of his childhood was spent watching his hometown Sudbury Wolves, who have now become a division rivals whom the Colts will face eight times this season. Sudbury took the first of those meetings in Barrie on Oct. 21.
A rematch in the Nickel City is scheduled for Dec. 1 at 7:05 p.m.
“Being able to play at the Sudbury Arena is going to be pretty special, having all my family and friends there,” Newton said. “I’m really glad to be in this part of Ontario, where I get to play Sudbury a couple more times.”
Newton’s departure represents a significant loss for the Cubs, as his strong play in the team’s top six was certainly a factor in its ascent to the top of the NOJHL standings and near-constant showing in the Canadian Junior Hockey League Top 20 rankings. He’s confident, however, that the local club has both the coaching staff and the player personnel to win a league championship and earn a spot in the Centennial Cup tournament next spring.
While his extra skates and workouts this past summer certainly helped to prepare Newton for the next level, he gave Cubs head coach Darry Moxam and his staff a large share of credit for helping him to round out his game.
And as short as it was, Moxam certainly seemed to enjoy his time coaching the youngster this season and said as much in a recent post-game interview.
“If I was to pinpoint one thing that defines Nolan Newton, it’s his willingness to get better every single day,” Moxam said. “You look at a young 16-year-old who came into the league last year and really had no idea how to play on both sides of the puck and the strides he has made in 12 months, he competes as hard on both sides of the puck as anybody in the league.
“When you have that kind of offensive ability and the compete on the defensive side of the puck, you have a pretty special type of hockey player.”
Newton also tipped his hat to a fellow Sudbury-area resident, Colts director of player personnel Mark Seidel, for his efforts in bringing the local product into the fold. Seidel was high on Newton’s potential even before last year’s draft and urged Barrie brass not to miss out on the swift-skating Team NOHA alumnus.
“He has played a huge role in my development the last couple of years,” Newton said of Seidel. “Keeping my emotions in check when things weren’t going well, always checking in on me to see how I’m doing — it’s just nice to have someone like that in your corner.”
He also thanked his parents, Shelley and Rob, for their unwavering support while he navigated such an important part of his junior hockey journey.
“I’m really fortunate to have them,” Newton said.
With a record of 6-8-0-0, Barrie has yet to generate the buzz of a potential Eastern Conference contender such as division rivals from Sudbury, Mississauga or North Bay, but Newton is optimistic about what the team can achieve this season and, while he expects there will be an adjustment period, he hopes to be a key contributor to those efforts.
“It’s obviously different, something to get used to, but I think if I play my game and stick to my style of play, I can do pretty well,” he said.
“It’s just awesome. I can’t believe it’s happening, but I’m very glad it’s happening now, so I can get my feet wet in the league and take it to the next level.”