It was about five months later than planned but the Soo Greyhounds home opener is finally in the books.
While he admitted there were times in the game that the team wasn’t perfect, Greyhounds Coach John Dean credited an ability to capitalize with some key goals early and late in periods en route to a 6-2 Ontario Hockey League win over the Sarnia Sting at the GFL Memorial Gardens on Tuesday night.
With a 3-1 lead, the Greyhounds broke the game open late in the second period with a pair of goals in the final minute of the period.
Keeghan Howdeshell made it 4-1 on the power play, completing a three-way passing play with Morgan Frost and Cole MacKay just 10 seconds into the man advantage.
“That was a big goal,” Dean said. “How quickly it happened, credit to the guys because they made it look pretty easy. And the rest of the bench looks at it as ‘That’s what we’re all about.’ And you feel a little better about yourself the rest of the game.”
Then, with 1.9 seconds to go in the period, a shot by Mac Hollowell found its way past Sarnia goaltender Cameron Lamour to make it 5-1.
“The two penalties at the end of the second period really hurt us,” Sarnia Coach Derian Hatcher said. “At that point we were coming, and the score was 3-1 and we were out chancing them at that point.”
Hatcher went on to say, “if we don’t take two bad penalties (late in the second period), who knows what happens?”
After missing Friday’s win over Sudbury due to an injury, Matthew Villalta returned to the Greyhounds lineup on Tuesday night and made 33 saves.
“We gave up some pretty significant chances in that game and he makes it look easy and he makes it look like we’re chugging along just fine when sometimes we might be treading water,” Dean said.
Rookie forward Rory Kerins had a pair of goals for the Greyhounds while Howdeshell and MacKay had a goal and an assist each. Frost and Holden Wale assisted on a pair of goals each.
Jacob LeGuerrier had the other goal for the Greyhounds.
Ryan McGregor had both goals for the Sting, giving him 22 on the season.
“He’s been great for us since he’s come back from injury,” Hatcher said. “The last month he’s been by far our best player.”
Hugo Leufvenius and Mitch Eliot had two assists each for Sarnia.
Lamour made 33 saves.
The Greyhounds lost the services of captain Barrett Hayton in the late stages of the second period due to injury.
The veteran forward was hit in the neutral zone by Sarnia’s Curtis Egert with just over a minute to go in the period.
As Hayton was cutting over the middle from left to right, Egert stepped up and caught the Greyhound forward.
Hayton crawled off the ice and did not return for the third period.
Dean said the 18-year-old is out day-to-day.
“It’s one of those things where we’ll see how swollen it is and take it from there,” Dean said.
Howdeshell left the game late in the third after blocking a pair of shots by Eliot with the Greyhounds on the penalty kill.
Dean said the overage forward was fine after the game.
Dean added that he wasn’t happy that the Greyhounds found themselves in penalty trouble late, leading to the need for shot blocks.
“We don’t want to put ourselves in that position where guys can get hurt for that exact reason,” Dean said.
For Sarnia, the team played the game without the services of highly-skilled forward Jamieson Rees.
Rees is facing a suspension after a hit on Saginaw Spirit forward Cole Coskey on Monday night in Sarnia’s shootout win over the Spirit.
Rees was handed a major penalty and game misconduct for blindsiding on the play.
As the Greyhounds prepare for a three-game road trip that begins on Thursday night in Windsor against the Spitfires, the team will do so with a 37-12-6-1 record and a four-point lead over Saginaw atop the West Division thanks to Tuesday’s win combined with Saginaw’s shootout loss on Monday afternoon.
The Greyhounds also pull to within four points of the London Knights for top spot in the Western Conference.
The Greyhounds, Spirit, and Knights have all played 56 games.
Saginaw and London also return to action on Thursday. Saginaw is on the road in Barrie to face the Colts while the Knights will also hit the road, taking on the Peterborough Petes.
Following the stop in Windsor on Thursday, the Greyhounds will be in Kitchener to face the Rangers on Friday before wrapping up the trip in Sarnia on Sunday afternoon.