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It is entirely possible that an entire book could be written on the sporting history of Little Italy in Copper Cliff.


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From the legendary Toppazzini brothers – Zellio and Jerry both played in the NHL – to football great Gene Ceppetelli, who competed in the NFL and CFL, to the hundreds of kids who only had fun fun, the neighborhood up the hill was a hive of physical activity.

Brian Ceppetelli never reached the professional ranks, but the man who went on to carve out a coaching legacy while at St. Charles College still remembers the roots of his journey.

“I was very lucky and privileged to grow up in Copper Cliff,” said the teacher of more than three decades, all spent in Sudbury. “Apart from the Sudbury arena, we were one of the few that had an indoor rink. We grew up with this rink, two baseball diamonds and a curling club. I remember the big thrill with the Legion Baseball League was the day they formed the teams.

“All those boxes full of those colorful shirts – you were so excited to find out which team you would be playing for.”

Now 74, Ceppetelli recognizes, like everyone else, how much the landscape of what it was like to be a kid has changed. Out of sheer necessity, children in those days were much more independent – and parents were more than okay with that. There was a common sense of looking out for each other, prevalent in Little Italy, but also in cities and towns from coast to coast.

“My dad had multiple jobs, mum was busy at home or volunteering at church or the Italian club so they really didn’t have time to come and watch me play,” he said. “I remember leaving the house at 7 a.m., going to Stanley Stadium, coming back at supper time. Today there would be a bulletin of all points to search for the child.


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“Parents weren’t scared or worried when you were in town – that’s exactly what you were supposed to do.”

After meandering around Copper Cliff Public School after school to see his cousin Gene and the high schoolers at practices and football games, Ceppetelli wasn’t entirely thrilled when his mother, a devout Catholic she was, decided to forego sending her oldest child to the local high school in favor of St. Charles College, then located on Pine Street.

Fortunately, he quickly made friends, met Ray Lamothe, Mike Jakubo and Gary Croteau, with sport as a common thread.

“All of a sudden I’m in a situation where I’m in training every day and then worried about finding a way to get home,” Ceppetelli said. “We were hitchhiking around the corner from the courthouse – usually we got a ride pretty quickly.”

Competing at a time when it was perfectly permissible to play both Copper Cliff minor hockey and high school hockey, Ceppetelli only enjoyed a year as a junior cardinal (he managed a few football seasons) , before completing his 13th year with rival coach Bert McClelland and the Copper Cliff Braves.

“They insisted that I quit midget hockey to play for St. Charles College,” Ceppetelli said.

It wasn’t going to fly, especially as the young defender was born with a stubborn streak he recognizes to this day. He was actually working in the mines in the early fall when Copper Cliff’s friend Dennis Hannah suggested that a final year in his hometown high school might be worth it.


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“It was one of the proudest moments of my life, a bit of vindication for me,” said Ceppetelli, who ironically went from some early apprehensions to a Bepi Polano and eventually formed a lifelong friendship, the tandem much of hockey. tradition of training at the house of cards.

“I was there at the 3,400 foot level at Creighton Mine and ended up winning an Ontario high school hockey championship.”

While hockey was still progressing well, as Ceppetelli played a few years with the Laurentian Voyageurs, as team captain during his last season on campus, the balance between athletics and studies n certainly wasn’t a fort. His father passed away when he was still quite young and the ‘lost child’, in his own words, was grateful for the key connections he was able to forge with hockey.

“I was derailed as a student,” Ceppetelli admitted. “I was on school probation and Jack (Porter, coach) had a really good chat with me. He and Bert (McClelland) will forever be in my heart and mind just for what they did for me.

Fortunately, Ceppetelli continued on his path to retribution, graduating from college as a teacher and accepting an offer at St. Raphael’s Catholic Elementary School.

Somehow, the door to CSC had been left open.

“Father Gerry Lalonde got me through that door and the rest is history; it turned into one hell of a career.

Now was the time to give back – and coaching was the natural vehicle.


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“In my mind, most of the time I was coaching while I was playing,” Ceppetelli said. “I would create these scenarios in my head. I think I always expected to go from playing to training.

And as much as St. Charles enjoyed much success under his leadership, the man who spent years behind the bench with the likes of Bob Palmero, Mike Fox and Rob Zanatta still prided himself on maintaining a healthy outlook.

“If there were 10 strikers or 11 strikers, you had to find a way to make everyone feel like they were part of the team. The kids all understand that some of the better players will play more, but no kid ever understands having to park their butt on the bench and get a shift per period.

The lessons of Little Italy were clearly ingrained. And just like he learned early on, stay involved as long as it’s fun.

“I really enjoyed myself,” Ceppetelli said – and that says it all.

Nickel City Nostalgia airs bi-weekly in the Sudbury Star.


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