The Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves are going to the TELUS Cup, but they didn’t exactly take the most common of routes to the National Midget Championship.
The Nickel Caps knocked off the London Jr. Knights, the defending champions, 4-3 to win their second Central Regional championship Sunday in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., booking their cross-country trip to Leduc, Alta., for the 2012 TELUS Cup.
Just a month ago Sudbury looked to be the longest of long shots to make it to Alberta, trailing the Nickel City Sons 2-1 in its best-of-five Great North Midget League semifinal and down 4-3 very late in Game 4.
But it scored in the final minute of regulation to tie the game before winning in double overtime, and erased a 4-0 deficit after one period of Game 5 to eliminate the Sons and not only advance to the league final, but clinch a berth in the regionals since their GNML final opponent, the Soo North Stars, were hosting the Central tournament.
The North Stars claimed the league championship in four games, but the Nickel Caps had their sights set a little higher.
“Once we advanced to the Great North final, the manager and staff made a decision,” Sudbury head coach Peter Michelutti Jr. told the Sudbury Star. “We had a lot of guys banged up and hurt going to that final with the Soo and we decided it was more important to rest guys and get healthy. Our regret would be not winning the Great North final, but we knew we had to rest guys and get healthy for that week-long tournament.”
The regional got off to a rocky start for the Nickel Caps, who were blown out 7-1 by the Mississauga Rebels in the tournament’s opening game. But that would be the lone loss for Sudbury, which rattled off four straight wins to claim top spot in the preliminary round.
A 5-2 semifinal victory over the Whitby Wildcats sent Sudbury to the championship game against London, which was trying to become the first team since the New Liskeard Cubs in 19 to win back-to-back Central Region championships.
Tied 2-2 entering the third period, the Nickels Caps took the lead early in the final frame, only to see the Knights battle back to tie it. With overtime looming, Ryan Erickson stepped up as the hero, scoring with less than four minutes to win it for Sudbury.
“They came at us strong in the first period, but we weathered the storm and were only down 1-0 after the first,” Michelutti said. “It's wasn't the start we wanted, but the guys stuck together and believed in each other and we found ways to get the puck in the net and then we held on for that last minute and now we're Central champs and heading to Alberta in a few weeks, and it's an incredible feeling.”
Already the only Central Region team to win the TELUS Cups since the start of the six-team format in 1984 – they were crowned national champions in 2008 in Arnprior, Ont. – Sudbury will take to the ice in Leduc trying to become just the ninth program ever to win multiple national titles.
ROAD TO THE TELUS CUP: SUDBURY NICKEL CAPITAL WOLVES
Great North Midget League
ALL-TIME AT THE NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP: SUDBURY NICKEL CAPITAL WOLVES