Feeling good following a road win on Thursday night in Barrie, the Soo Greyhounds will head into action on Saturday night feeling even better.
A pair of goals in the first period and a solid finish defensively in the third helped the Greyhounds to a 4-2 Ontario Hockey League win over the Guelph Storm Friday night at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph.
Holding a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes, Greyhounds coach John Dean credited a new defensive system the team is implementing as a key in the third period when the visiting team gave up four shots and limited quality chances for the Storm.
“We’ve been working on a new defensive zone coverage since the start of camp and there’s potential for it to be too passive and that’s where we err is to be too cautious and you could see it in the first period,” Dean said. “What I really liked is we kept addressing it between periods and through the course of the game, we became much more aggressive defensively.”
Guelph coach George Burnett called the game a lesson for the Storm.
“(The Greyhounds) are a good team,” Burnett said in an interview with GuelphToday. “They’re going to be a top team and it was a great lesson for us.”
Burnett added that “their experience and their pace and their game was something different for us that we haven’t seen yet.”
Dean felt the Greyhounds “progressively got better over the course of the game.”
“That’s our first convincing win of the year. I really enjoyed our third period,” Dean added. “It’s the first time going into third period with a two-goal lead, and we played most of the third period in their end and controlled and managed the puck for the most part really well.”
After scoring four power play goals on Thursday night in Barrie, the Greyhounds picked up another goal on the man advantage in Friday’s win.
“It can be really good,” overage defenceman Robert Calisti said of the Greyhounds power play. “We’ve got a lot of weapons on both units. Whatever unit is going is going to go out there and try to do the job and put the puck in the net.”
“We’ve got a job to do and everybody knows their role and what stuff works,” Calisti also said.
The Greyhounds opened the scoring on the power play as Calisti beat Storm goaltender Jacob Oster from the right faceoff circle on a feed from Kalvyn Watson down low to the left of the Guelph net.
The visitors went up 2-0 with 2:36 to go in the opening period as rookie Marco Mignosa scored his first OHL goal, beating Oster glove side.
Guelph would get on the board just under four minutes into the second period as Danny Zhilkin beat rookie Greyhounds goaltender Charlie Schenkel from the left circle on a shot that appeared to be deflected on its way to the net.
The Greyhounds restored the two-goal lead with just under five minutes to go in the second period as Bryce McConnell-Barker picked up his second of the year. On a dump-in, Oster left the puck behind the Guelph net and McConnell-Barker beat a Guelph player to the puck before tucking the puck in on a wrap-around.
“Rory (Kerins) chipped it in and the goalie stopped it behind the net and I was sneaking in,” McConnell-Barker said of the goal. “Their D weren’t really communicating with their goalie, so the goalie left it and I snuck in there and wrapped it around.”
Greyhounds captain Ryan O’Rourke, who returned to the lineup Saturday following a two-game suspension, said McConnell-Barker’s goal was a key point in the game.
“It was definitely big,” O’Rourke said. “You could say it was the turning point. It’s one of those goals that we were lucky to get in that sense, but it shifted the momentum and sparked us all.”
Overage forward Cole MacKay extended the Greyhounds lead 6:36 into the third when he took a feed from Kirill Kudryavtsev and beat Oster high stick side to make it 4-1.
Guelph cut the lead to two late as Luca Profaca beat Schenkel with a shot from the top of the left circle on a delayed penalty call with 2:33 to go in regulation time.
Schenkel finished the night with 20 saves for the Greyhounds, which included a key stop early in the game.
“We really decided to wake him up with a Grade A opportunity right in the high slot for his first shot in his Ontario Hockey League career,” Dean joked.
“He’s worked exceptionally hard,” Dean said. “He’s a confident kid. I always judge the goalie by how confident I feel standing on the bench and Charlie Schenkel never crossed my mind tonight. He was very quiet in his approach. It was a really good game by Charlie.”
McConnell-Barker finished the night with a goal and an assist, giving him four points on the road trip thus far.
“He’s just starting to show some confidence,” Dean said of the 2020 first rounder. “At the end of the day, he’s still a first-year player even though he should be in his second year in the league. He’s starting to get used to the game and the speed. He’s starting to assert himself a little more and be the player we think he can be. Confidence is half the battle at this level and he’s got the skillset to be a really special player.”
“Now that I’ve got a few games under my belt, I’m more comfortable on the ice,” McConnell-Barker said. “I’ve got good linemates and good systems. I’m getting used to everything and it’s all coming to me and I’m feeling really good out there.”
Oster made 27 saves for the Storm.
The win improves the Greyhounds record to 3-1-0-0 while Guelph falls to 1-2-1-0.
The Greyhounds wrap up the weekend on Saturday night in Owen Sound against the Attack.