New Team. New Den. New Brand of Jr. A Hockey!

It will be a new home, a new name and certainly a new look for the Nickel City’s resident junior A hockey club, but general manager Jeff Forsyth says the same high standard that has kept the Rayside-Balfour Canadians near the top of the NOJHL standings in recent years will remain in place for their successors, the Greater Sudbury Cubs.

Forsyth and managing director Blaine Smith launched the relocated, renamed franchise during a press conference at their new home rink, Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, on Thursday morning.

“This whole transition has happened over the past month and COVID-19 has a lot to do with it,” explained Smith, a veteran hockey executive who moved into his current position after longtime collaborators Mark and Karen Burgess bought the Canadians in 2019.

“Right now, we’re limited to 50 per cent capacity in our facility, and Chelmsford Arena only has a capacity of about 200, so we can allow only 100 fans into the building. By comparison, the Gerry McCrory Countryside arena offers space for 900 spectators, which means we can now have 450 fully vaccinated fans to attend our games.”

Chair-back seating and ample parking only increased the appeal of the south-end facility for junior hockey, Smith said, and the rink’s newer, more modern facilities and larger dressing rooms will make for a better experience for players, while putting the Cubs in a position to bid for events such as the NOJHL Showcase, the Dudley Hewitt Cup regional championship and the Centennial Cup national championship tourney — the latter of which was last played in the city 30 years ago, with the hosts reaching the final.

Those players were also nicknamed Cubs, and the current club’s rebrand is very much a nod to the team that enjoyed a string of successes through the late 1980s and early ’90s, but with a modern twist. The new blue, white and silver jerseys feature an updated logo featuring a fearsome-looking bear, rather than the wolf that is so well-known to local hockey fans.

“I love the colours, love the logo,” said veteran forward Kyler Campbell, an off-season acquisition from the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, while clad the Cubs’ royal blue offering. “The new arena is sweet, the dressing room is awesome. Everything I have experienced here so far has been top tier.”

Players to suit up for the Sudbury Cubs in years past include the likes of Brian Savage and Todd Bertuzzi.

“Given what we have all had to endure these last 19 months, it’s our belief that Greater Sudbury needs something to cheer about and to enjoy,” Smith said. “We have all rediscovered the importance of family and our mandate with our team has always been to treat players like family, and to build a championship team to develop local players.”

No fewer than 11 Cubs attended OHL training camps this past week, and five of those have recently committed to teams at the major-junior level.

“We will continue to welcome our loyal fanbase from Rayside-Balfour to our games, in addition to all the outlying towns that make Greater Sudbury great,” Smith added. “Our goal is to create a family friendly experience with an exciting team, low-cost admission tickets and a safe and comfortable environment for everyone to enjoy.”

The task of building that exciting squad has fallen to Forsyth, who revealed most of the Cubs’ 2021-22 roster on Thursday, with a couple of additions still expected.

Greater Sudbury’s current roster consists of forwards Campbell, Alex Dillon, Pineshish Whiteduck, Cole Ambeault, Matthieu Morin, Gavin Brown, Jaxon Bedard, Ben Harris, Pierson Sobush, Cameron Shanks, Atley Gringorten and Billy Biedermann, defencemen Carter Geoffroy, Graeme Siren, Quinn Collins, Chris Innes and Cole Quevillon and goaltenders Joel Rainville and Jake Marois.

Two other Cubs, forwards Owen Perala and Samuel Assinewai, remained at OHL camps this week.

“I don’t think it’s much different from the two rosters I have set in the prior two seasons,” Forsyth told The Sudbury Star. “We’re built for speed, we’re built with maybe a little more size this year than we have had in the past, maybe a little more veteran presence. I think bringing in older guys from other teams, with that leadership ability, is going to serve our organization well later in the season. It’s going to help our young guys grow today, so that hopefully in March, we’re ready to go.”

While Forsyth has lost key players to the OHL ranks or to graduation, including forwards Brady Maltais, Gio Biondi, Nick DeGrazia, Mitchell Martin, Zacharie Giroux and Oliver Smith, along with blueliner Joel Mongeon and goaltender David Bowen, the GM believes the acquisition of several veterans this off-season, as well as the elevation of Rainville to become a regular contributor in the crease, will make for a good mix with the Cubs’ younger local products.

Campbell is happy to play that role, and he likes how both vets and rookies have looked in pre-season.

“I like the group of guys and we’re working hard in practice, getting the pace up,” said the 20-year-old Huntsville, Ont., native, who has amassed 28 points in 58 games in the NOJHL. “It’s really just getting coaches’ systems down and once we do that, I think we’ll be a force to be reckoned with this year.

“We definitely have a lot of skill, a lot of guys at forward and on the back end who can put the puck in the net. That being said, we’re also a team that can be tough and be tough to play against.”

Forsyth ranked his defence corps among the most improved parts of his team, with the speed and agility to exploit Countryside’s Olympic-sized ice surface.

“Bringing in Cole Quevillon, Quinn Collins, Carter Geoffroy, Graeme Siren and Chris Innes has been huge for us. We have one D spot open right now, and I will fill it with somebody equal to the task of playing with those five.”

He’s thrilled for the opportunity to start another, hopefully uninterrupted hockey season, and to build toward a potential playoff run and a return to the regional or even national stage in the near future.

“I have had the luxury of participating in provincial and national championships,” said Forsyth, pointing to his previous experience with the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves U18 team. “When you get into those topics of conversation, it helps to attract players to come here. We have a facility now and if we can host, it’s great for everybody. It’s good for the community, good for all the businesses.”

The Cubs open their pre-season schedule with a home game against the French River Rapids on Sunday, with puck drop set for 6:30 p.m.

Article By: Ben Leeson – The Sudbury Star