It’s a tough time to gauge rosters for Ontario Hockey League teams as the pre-season came to a close on Sunday for many teams.
With players away at NHL training camps, teams tend to play games short on bodies and that was no different for the Soo Greyhounds and Sudbury Wolves on Sunday afternoon.
Both clubs were short on bodies as the Greyhounds beat the Wolves 6-4 at the GFL Memorial Gardens.
“It’s an interesting situation,” said Greyhounds Coach John Dean. “As a coaching staff, we prep this team as if this is what we’re going to have (to start the season).
“As guys come back, we’ll adjust accordingly,” Dean added.
“Everybody is missing guys and it’s tough,” said Wolves Coach Cory Stillman said. “Guys are playing in roles that they won’t be in the regular season. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity to show what you can do when killing penalties, playing five-on-five or on the power play.”
Tyler Johnson got the start for the Greyhounds and was solid, stopping 22 of 23 shots in just over 32 minutes of work.
“He played great,” Dean said. “He was fantastic tonight.”
Rookie Ethan Taylor entered the game and stopped 10 of 13 shots the rest of the way.
Keeghan Howdeshell had two goals and an assist while his linemate, Ryan Roth, added a goal and two assists.
“I don’t think he realizes how good he is offensively,” Dean said of Howdeshell. “It’s going to be fun to bring that out of him over the course of the season. Physically, he has the ability to be dominant.”
“Roth is a waterbug,” Dean said. “He does a lot of shifty things that, if you’re not watching closely, you might not even catch. He’s really working hard to become a better player away from the puck.”
Rookie defenceman Ryan O’Rourke chipped in with a goal and an assist while Cullen McLean and Robert Calisti also scored.
“The first period (on was really back-and-forth but I started to see some semblance of structure,” said Dean. “In the second period, I was very disappointed with our effort. They out-worked us. We were lucky to be tied at three. In the third period, it wasn’t a perfect period, but I liked the effort.”
Sunday was the second pre-season meeting between the two clubs after the Greyhounds skated to a 4-3 shootout win in Sudbury on Thursday night.
“We were better than we were, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Dean said.
“(The Greyhounds) were much better,” Stillman said of Sunday’s contest. “When you make mistakes against a skilled team, they’re going to score and they capitalized on us again.”
Calling him a “great addition” to the Wolves roster, Stillman spoke highly of Quinton Byfield, who joined the team after being selected first overall by the club in the OHL Priority Selection in April.
“Quinton comes to the rink every day and wants to get better,” Stillman said. “The biggest thing that I see is that he wants to be a difference-maker. He’s hard on pucks. He drives the puck to the net. He makes people around him better.”
Byfield finished the day with a goal and two assists for the Wolves.
David Levin added two goals and an assist while MacAuley Carson also had a three-point night for the Wolves with three assists.
Cole Candella had the other Sudbury goal.
Jake McGrath made 28 saves for the Wolves.
As the regular season opens, the Greyhounds will open the schedule without Matthew Villalta (Los Angeles Kings), Morgan Frost (Philadelphia Flyers), and Barrett Hayton (Arizona Coyotes) remain at NHL camps.
Mac Hollowell, drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, has joined the camp of the Leafs’ American League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. Greyhounds General Manager Kyle Raftis said Sunday that Hollowell isn’t likely to be back for the Greyhounds season opener and his status for games next weekend wasn’t known.
Import forward Roman Pucek, who was invited as an undrafted free agent to the Toronto Maple Leafs camp, is expected back in Sault Ste. Marie on Monday.
Overage defenceman Jordan Sambrook, who is attending the camp of the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent, also remains away. His status for the opening of the regular season remains up in the air.
The Wolves played Sunday’s game with four players remaining at NHL training camps including local products Drake and Darian Pilon, who are at the camp of the Minnesota Wild as free agent invites.
“If you get them back, they come in and play big minutes,” Stillman said of the twins. “They play a shut down role. And when Blake Murray was on that line last year, he was scoring. That line just seemed to fit together.”
Also out for the Wolves were import goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Buffalo) and Alexey Lipanov (Tampa Bay).
The regular season officially opens for the Greyhounds on the road on Wednesday night as the team travels to Saginaw to take on the Spirit in the lone game on the OHL schedule to kick off the regular season.
The team will then open the home portion of the schedule on Friday night at the GFL Memorial Gardens against the Sarnia Sting and follow that up with a game the following night against the North Bay Battalion. Puck drop is set for 7:07 p.m. on both nights.