With a young group, the Soo Greyhounds expect a lot out of the new faces in the lineup to start the season.
After opening the regular season with a win on Friday night, the Greyhounds dropped a 6-3 decision to the Sudbury Wolves in Ontario Hockey League action at the GFL Memorial Gardens on Saturday night.
It was a game that coach John Dean hopes will be able to take some early-season lessons from, including sticking to their structure.
“It’s natural at this age, when you sense a little bit of adversity, you start to go off script a little bit,” Dean said. “When we were on script, we were very good. When you’re chasing the entire game, it’s natural for kids to go off script a little bit.
After a slow start, the team appeared to rebound in the latter half of the opening period, but fell behind on three separate occasions after tying the game and couldn’t completely recover.
“Our start was poor,” Dean said. “The second half of the first period was very good. Unfortunately, defensive zone coverage, there were three shots from the point where we didn’t pick up anybody in front of the net and they got sticks on it. We left (goaltender Samuel Ivanov) out to dry as far as covering guys in front of the net. That was a big issue for us.”
Ivanov made 27 saves for the Greyhounds and his play didn’t go unnoticed by Dean.
“Sammy was good,” Dean said.
“He made some big saves for us and kept us in the game,” Dean added. “We did create some chances here and there as well, but if not for Sammy, it could have been tougher.”
Dean added that the game could be a further lesson for the young players not to always rely on the veterans when the game isn’t going according to plan.
“Not every night is going to be a work of art,” Dean said. “(Sudbury’s) top guys were really good. It was tough to argue with how hard (Rory Kerins) worked out there. He played really strong. Some other guys probably could have picked up some slack. It also can’t always be (the veterans). We’ve got first-year players here and have got to get them up to speed to contribute as well.”
For the Wolves, veteran goaltender Mitchell Weeks stopped 33 shots in the contest and earned the praise of his coach.
“They brought it to us a few times and Mitchell Weeks gave us a chance to stay in the game and the kids responded and capitalized,” said Sudbury coach Craig Duncanson.
“His play was outstanding,” Duncanson also said. “He’s mature and he is a leader. If a goalie was allowed to be captain, he might be one. He’s that kind of person. That makes our younger player better.”
The opening period saw the teams trade goals early on.
The Wolves got on the board just under six minutes in as Ryan Smith beat Greyhounds netminder Samuel Ivanov to open the scoring.
Just 47 seconds later, the Greyhounds tied the game as rookie forward Justin Cloutier potted his first OHL goal. The 2021 first rounder jumped on a loose puck in the slot after a point shot by Jacob Holmes was blocked by Sudbury’s Quentin Musty and the puck found its way to Cloutier in the slot, who then beat Weeks.
Sudbury restored the lead 30 seconds after that as veteran defenceman Jack Thompson beat Ivanov high stick side from the left point to make it 2-1 Wolves.
Kalvyn Watson would send the game into the intermission tied at two as he beat Weeks in close with 1:27 to go in the opening period.
Sudbury took a 3-2 lead as Giordano Biondi tapped in a loose puck in close after Ivanov made an initial save on a shot by Thompson from the right point was stopped by Ivanov.
Marc Boudreau tied the game for the Greyhounds with 4:27 to go in the second period as he redirected a shot by Jacob Holmes past Weeks.
The Wolves would take a 4-3 lead into the third as Smith picked up his second of the night on a shot from the left faceoff circle after a shot by Thompson was redirected by Nathan Ribau to Smith.
The Wolves took a 5-3 lead as Ethan Larmand took a feed from David Goyette and beat Ivanov 4:25 into the period on the power play.
Biondo capped off the scoring with an empty net goal with 1:09 to go in the game.
In addition to his goal, Thompson finished the night with three assists as well.
“We can’t play the heck out of our young guys if those guys aren’t being standup men and they have been,” Duncanson said in reference to Thompson and Chase Stillman.
“He’s a consummate pro,” Duncanson also said of Thompson. “Him, Liam Ross and Chase, these young guys can’t excel if they don’t do their jobs day in and day out. They’ve pressed the issue. They practice hard and they play hard, and it rubs off.”
Smith chipped in with an assist along with this two-goal performance. Defenceman Nathan Ribau added two assists for the Wolves.
Holmes had two assists for the Greyhounds.
The Greyhounds played Saturday’s game minus captain Ryan O’Rourke and rookie forward Owen Allard.
O’Rourke was suspended by the league for a pair of games following a major penalty for head contact in Friday’s win over North Bay.
Meanwhile, Allard was injured in Friday’s contest.
Additional thoughts from both coaches can be found here:
The Greyhounds return to action on Thursday night in the opening game of a three-game road trip that begins in Barrie in a 7:30 p.m. start.
The trip will also take the team to Guelph on Friday night before wrapping up the trip in Owen Sound on Saturday night against the Attack.