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Firebirds capitalize shorthanded, beat Greyhounds

Flint limited the Greyhounds to a goal in eight power play opportunities and scored twice shorthanded in the victory

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The importance of special teams in junior hockey is always magnified.

On Wednesday night, the struggles of their power play played a role in a loss for the Soo Greyhounds.

In addition to going 1-for-8 on the man advantage, the team gave up a pair of shorthanded goals in a 5-3 Ontario Hockey League loss to the Flint Firebirds at the GFL Memorial Gardens.

A shorthanded goal midway through the third period was the eventual winner in a game that saw the Greyhounds come back from a pair of deficits to tie the game before Coulson Pitre’s shorthanded game-winner in the third period.

“It takes a little wind out of your sails,” Greyhounds coach John Dean said of the shorthanded goals.

Dean added that some of the issues managing the puck on the power play seeped in from struggles in the same department at even strength.

“The reality is, we didn’t manage the puck very well five-on-five either,” Dean said.

Greyhounds captain Bryce McConnell-Barker called giving up two shorthanded goals in the game “unacceptable.”

“We need to be better there,” McConnell-Barker added.

“We were getting good looks at times (on the power play),” the sophomore forward also said. “Some power plays were really sloppy and some were really good.”

For the Firebirds, the win comes after the team dropped its season-opener over the weekend to the Niagara IceDogs.

“I liked our effort,” said Flint coach Ted Dent. “I liked our start. We have some things to clean up, like every team, but (goaltender Will Cranley) was good in net and kept us in the game.”

Dent added that, while structure on the penalty kill is still a work in progress, there was a lot to like from the kill in addition to the pair of shorthanded goals.

“I liked the fact that we blocked some shots,” Dent said. “We pressured up is pretty good and Coulson Pitre was pretty opportunistic there (on the game-winning goal).”

Battling back from a two-goal deficit in the second period

“The character this group showed was pretty impressive,” Dean said. “To come back twice from different deficits was fantastic. Great response early in the third. Execution with a younger group was a little sloppy tonight, but it wasn’t for lack of opportunity, will, and compete level.”

Flint opened the scoring with just over six minutes to go in the first period as Gavin Hayes found himself alone in the slot. Hayes took a pass from Riley Piercey along the right side boards and was stopped initially before potting his own rebound past Greyhounds goaltender Charlie Schenkel.

Early in the second period the Firebirds took a 2-0 lead as Brennan Othmann beat Schenkel on a shorthanded 3-on-1. The veteran Firebirds forward took a pass from Ethan Hay cross slot before beating Schenkel.

The Greyhounds got on the board with just over six minutes to go in the period. With the locals on the power play, Bryce McConnell-Barker took a short pass from Kirill Kudryavtsev near the blueline, skated into the left circle and beat Firebirds goaltender Will Cranley to pull the Greyhounds to within one.

Just under two minutes later, the Greyhounds tied the game as Kalvyn Watson found himself alone in the slot and he proceeded to beat Cranley.

Piercey gave the Firebirds a 3-2 lead with just under three minutes to go in the period as he took a pass in the slot from Amadeus Lombardi and beat Schenkel with a backhand in tight.

Matthew Virgilio tied the game for the Greyhounds on the power play in the third when he beat Cranley with a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle at 1:29.

Coulson Pitre proceeded to give the Firebirds a 4-3 lead thanks to a shorthanded marker at 9:50. Virgilio turned the puck over at the Flint blueline and Pitre broke in alone and was stopped initially by Schenkel but scored on his own rebound.

In addition to scoring his first OHL goal, Virgilio also picked up an assist in the game for the Greyhounds. Marco Mignosa also had two points for the Sault with a pair of assists.

Schenkel made 33 saves for the Greyhounds.

Asked about the rookie netminder, Dean said Schenkel “just keeps giving us an opportunity to win.”

“That’s great for a group like this right now,” Dean added. “On the bench, at no point in time did we think we weren’t in that hockey game."

Piercey and Othmann finished the night with a goal and an assist each while Dmitry Kuzmin assisted on a pair of goals.

Cranley made 37 saves in the victory.

The Greyhounds return to action on Friday night in the opening game of a three-game road trip. The team will face the London Knights on Friday night before facing the Sarnia Sting on Sunday afternoon and the Windsor Spitfires on Thanksgiving Monday.

Earlier in the day Wednesday, the Greyhounds named McConnell-Barker captain. The New York Rangers prospect takes over the captaincy from Ryan O’Rourke, who held the position for two seasons.

Also wearing letters as part of the Greyhounds leadership group are forwards Tyler Savard, Mark Duarte and Kalvyn Watson, as well as defenceman Ryan Thompson

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Brad Coccimiglio

About the Author: Brad Coccimiglio

A graduate of Loyalist College’s Sports Journalism program, Brad Coccimiglio’s work has appeared in The Hockey News as well as online at FoxSports.com in addition to regular freelance work with SooToday before joining the team full time.
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