It was a different style than the players were used to but at the end of the night, it got the desired result.
The Soo Greyhounds picked up a crucial 4-1 Ontario Hockey League win over the Flint Firebirds on Wednesday night at the GFL Memorial Gardens, a win that helps keep the team in the playoff race in the OHL’s Western Conference in the final weeks of the regular season.
The Greyhounds, playing a more passive style at the offensive end, looked to limit Flint’s ability to get scoring chances off the rush in the game.
“We did a great job of limiting odd-man rushes and paying the price in front of our net and clogging our zone,” Greyhounds coach John Dean said of the defensive side of the puck. “We gave up a lot of zone time tonight, but our guys did a really good job of making sure that inside the dots and inside the house, we took care of it pretty well.”
“The Sault played pretty hard defensively,” Wellwood said. “They were blocking a lot of shots.”
In taking about the change in game plan, Dean talked about it being a “tough ask” of the players.
“We changed up our style of play and our game plan a little bit,” Dean said. “We asked for a little more passive forecheck so they wouldn’t get above us. They’re very good off the rush. It’s a tough ask from your coach considering the way we played all year. The passiveness leaked into other areas of our game unfortunately but credit to the guys for sticking to it.”
Dean added that in the third period, the team shifted to being “a little more aggressive” to finish off the contest and was pleased overall with the players buying in.
Greyhounds goaltender Nick Malik finished the night with 31 saves.
“Malik was a five out of five tonight for sure,” Dean said. “He was fantastic, and he allowed us to play a little bit different style of game than we’re used to tonight. Without Mals tonight, it’s probably a different story. He was great.”
“He played outstanding,” Wellwood said of Malik. “I felt like we didn’t have that extra little punch to finish the play off. That’s not a negative toward our guys but I think it we would have scored earlier it would have given us some life.”
Wellwood also said he felt Malik was a “major contributor” to the outcome.
Anthony Popovich made 13 saves for the Firebirds.
Robert Calisti and Joe Carroll had a goal and an assist each for the Greyhounds while Tye Kartye and Jaromir Pytlik also scored.
Dean felt that the Greyhounds “gave up a lot of chances to shoot” in the game.
“Zone time was lopsided but when you don’t shoot the puck, you don’t break them down,” Dean added. “Part of it was us being too passive and part of it was us looking for the perfect chance as opposed to the chance given to you.”
Jack Phibbs had the lone goal for the Firebirds.
The Greyhounds, who now trail the Erie Otters by one point for the final playoff spot in the OHL’s Western Conference, will now shift focus to the opening game of a weekend road trip on Friday night in Kitchener against the Rangers.
“The guys are a smart group,” Dean said. “We have a tough schedule moving forward and so does Erie. Winning tonight, it makes your competition moving forward irrelevant meaning ‘I just have to go out and get the next two points.’”
The Greyhounds improve to 29-31-3-1 with Wednesday’s win while Flint’s record falls to 40-21-1-1.
The Otters, with a record of 26-26-4-7, return to action on Friday night as well, facing the Saginaw Spirit in Saginaw as the team opens a three-in-three weekend that will take the team to Flint on Saturday night before wrapping up the weekend in Sarnia on Sunday afternoon.
Following Friday’s game in Kitchener, the Greyhounds will face the London Knights on Saturday to wrap up weekend action.
In other action around the OHL on Wednesday night, in Guelph, Greg Meireles had three goals and three assists as the Kitchener Rangers beat the Guelph Storm 7-4. Liam Hawel chipped in with a goal and two assists for the Rangers.
In Owen Sound, Jet Greaves made 42 saves as the Barrie Colts beat the Owen Sound Attack 4-1. Conor Punnett had a pair of goals for Barrie.
In other league news on Wednesday, the Firebirds announced that Wellwood general manager Barclay Branch had their contracts extended through the end of next season.