One goal down, three to go for the Sault Ste. Marie North Stars.
The 2013 TELUS Cup hosts were absolutely dominant during the Great North Midget League regular season, fashioning a 32-1-1 record and outscoring their opposition by a ridiculous 267-74, averaging almost eight goals per game.
But don’t think the North Stars are happy with just seeing their names atop the standings.
“We definitely want to do more,” centre Jaren Bellini told the Sault Star after clinching first place. “We want to win a league championship. And we also want to go as far as we can.”
In addition to a GNML playoff title, which would be the second in a row for Sault Ste. Marie, “as far as we can” would include a victory at the Central Regional, where the North Stars crashed out in the preliminary round as the host team one year ago, and at the national championship, where no host has won since 1991.
While the North Stars continue to look ahead to the next challenge in front of them, their regular season was one worthy of a look back.
Through its 34-game schedule, Sault Ste. Marie:
- put together a 17-game winning streak between its only two losses – a 5-4 shootout setback to the Kapuskasing Flyers on Oct. 6 and a 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves on Jan. 19;
- reached double digits in goals nine times, including five games in a row from Oct. 23 to Nov. 25;
- went a perfect 17-0 on the road with a +90 goal differential (126-36);
- and had the league’s top four scorers – Anthony Stefano (99 points), Ryan Vendramin (93), Devin Shell (81) and Matt Pinder (77).
The North Stars were never challenged in the GNML standings, wrapping up top spot after a 7-3 win over North Bay on Jan. 26, with still a week remaining on the schedule.
“It's over and it takes a lot of pressure off of the kids,” North Stars head coach Mike Hall told the Sault Star after the win over the Trappers. “We had five games remaining when we clinched ... and to do that shows how hard the kids have worked all year.”
The work is just beginning, however. Sault Ste. Marie opened the GNML postseason with a sweep of the overmatched Kirkland Lake Legion 87’s, scoring 19-0, 14-1 and 12-2 wins, the first three of what could be as many as 20 victories needed to hoist the TELUS Cup.
Vendramin led the way with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in the three games, followed by Stefano (6g, 7a), Bellini (5g, 8a) and Shell (4g, 9a), all of whom averaged more than four points a game.
“We got out of there injury free and suspension free,” Hall said after the Game 3 win. “That's the big thing for us.”
The opposition for Sault Ste. Marie in the GNML semifinals will be the Nickel City Sons. The best-of-seven series opens with a pair of games on home ice, Feb. 22 and Feb. 23, before moving to Sudbury for Games 3 and 4 the following weekend.
The North Stars will make their 2013 TELUS Cup debut when they face the Atlantic Region representatives in the opening day finale at the Essar Centre on April 22.