There wasn’t a lot to like for the Soo Greyhounds on Wednesday night.
With an opportunity to put some pressure on the Saginaw Spirit in the battle for top spot in the Ontario Hockey League’s West Division, the Greyhounds struggled in a 4-2 loss on home ice to the Sudbury Wolves.
The Wolves jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to goals by MacAuley Carson and Adam Ruzicka, both of which came off turnovers.
“We got off to a slow start and we’d like the first two goals back,” said Greyhounds Coach John Dean. “It’s pretty clear that we can’t cough up pucks and make mistakes that end up in the back of our net. When you keep putting yourself in situations like that, it makes it difficult to consistently come back like we have all year.”
Turnovers were an issue throughout much of the opening period for the Greyhounds.
“They were very good on the forecheck and we weren’t moving our feet at all to exit the zone,” Dean said. “That ended up in turnovers and zone time for them in our end. Our team is not a good team when we’re not moving out feet. When we move our feet, we’re very tough to play against.”
“We know that if you turn the puck over at the blueline or top of the circles against (the Greyhounds), you’re going to pay for it,” said Sudbury Coach Cory Stillman. “Our guys did a good job. They battled.
Stillman went on to credit the Wolves forecheck, which made life difficult for the Greyhounds early on in the game.
“There’s two parts to it,” Stillman said. “One is where you put the puck. In times we’ve played them, we’ve put the puck in, (Matthew) Villalta has set it up and their defencemen jump. We carried the puck in and finished checks.”
On a night when the Greyhounds were looking to move six points ahead of Saginaw atop the division, the Greyhounds now fall to 33-12-5-1 with the Spirit holding a game in hand.
“We can’t give up two points,” Dean said. “These are games that we have to win. That’s not disrespecting Sudbury because that’s a very good hockey team over there. With the goals that we’re starting to set, we can’t give up two points like we did tonight.”
Saginaw returns to action on Thursday night on the road against the Windsor Spitfires.
Roman Pucek and Jaden Peca remained out of the lineup for the Greyhounds on Wednesday.
Pucek, out with a lower-body injury, last played on Jan. 17 when he had a goal in a win over North Bay.
The import forward remains day-to-day.
Peca was injured last week in a loss against the Niagara IceDogs in St. Catharines.
Dean said Sunday that the veteran forward was expected to be out two to four weeks with an upper-body injury though he hoped it would be on the shorter end of that.
After being evaluated on Monday after returning home from the road, Dean said Peca still looks to be out for two weeks. And will not dress as the Greyhounds return to action on Saturday night at home against the Niagara IceDogs.
Sudbury goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 34 saves.
“When we had a breakdown, Ukko was there to make a save,” Stillman said.
“In my eyes, he’s the best 19-year-old (goalie) there is,” Stillman also said. “He makes timely saves.”
Owen Robinson paced the Wolves with a pair of goals.
Jaromir Pytlik had a goal and an assist for the Greyhounds while Jordan Sambrook also scored.
Greyhounds goaltender Matthew Villalta made 22 saves.
Wednesday saw former Greyhounds defenceman Anthony DeMeo make his return to Sault Ste. Marie after being dealt to Sudbury prior to the trade deadline.
“He’s been great for us,” Stillman said. “He’s a 19-year-old defenceman that has calmed everything down and for him, it’s a chance to play. We use him in big minutes, and it looks like he’s having fun and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Wolves played Wednesday without a trio of veterans due to injuries as well. Forwards Owen Gilhula and David Levin along with defenceman Peter Stratis all missed the game with injuries.
Sudbury improves to 31-16-2-1 with the win.
In other action around the OHL on Wednesday night, in Erie, Joseph Garreffa had three goals and an assist as the Kitchener Rangers doubled up the Erie Otters 8-4. Rickard Hugg added a pair of goals. Gera Poddubnyi had a goal and two assists while Pete Cajka scored a pair of goals for Erie.