It wasn’t supposed to be the home opener, but the Soo Greyhounds returned to Ontario Hockey League action on Saturday night and recovered from a slow start in a big way.
A pair of goals in the first period lifted the Greyhounds to a 6-0 victory over the North Bay Battalion Saturday at the GFL Memorial Gardens.
After what Coach John Dean called a “disappointing” opening five minutes that saw the Battalion take the play to the Greyhounds, the team rebounded with an effort that pleased the coach.
“The first five minutes, if not for Matthew Villalta, we probably don’t end up with that result,” Dean said.
Dean called Villalta a “calming influence” in the game.
“I felt pretty good tonight,” Villalta said. “I felt like I was in the moment. I saw pretty much everything. My teammates did a good job opening up lanes for me to see the puck. Our guys did a great job in front of me and made things pretty simple.”
Villalta finished the night with 33 saves.
Admitting he enjoys the pregame banner raisings that home openers can bring, Dean spoke of how the wait for puck drop could have led in part to the slow start for the Greyhounds.
“It was a little disappointing,” Dean said. “Home openers are a funny animal. You get really amped up in the room and the kids are really excited for it and then you sit out there and wait for the presentations.”
Dean added he felt the wait to start the game “carried into the first five minutes.”
“In the first five minutes we come out not bad,” said North Bay Coach Stan Butler. “(The Greyhounds) scored on their first shot and you have to give John’s team credit, they played very hard.
“After the first five minutes, they really just took the game to us,” Butler added.
Rookie forward Alex Johnston paced the Greyhounds with a pair of goals.
“He’s an interesting kid,” Dean said. “He works exceptionally hard every single day he comes to the rink. For practices and games, he works hard. He’s the perfect example of if you have a strong skill set and good work ethic, good things are going to happen.”
Morgan Frost chipped in with a goal and an assist while Rory Kerins assisted on a pair of goals. Zack Trott, Roman Pucek, and Jordan Sambrook also scored.
For the Battalion, it was a night that, despite 33 shots, the Greyhounds made it tough offensively for a team that scored seven times in a win over the Hamilton Bulldogs one night earlier.
“We had trouble getting to their net all night,” Butler said. “That happens when their team plays well defensively, and it happens when your guys don’t fight for that inside ice to get to the net.”
North Bay goaltender Christian Propp made 35 saves.
Butler spoke highly of the Greyhounds and the new coaching staff in place that includes Dean, Associate Coach Jordan Smith and Assistant Coach Jamie Tardif.
“As a staff, they’ll do a good job and they’ve got a lot to work with,” Butler said. “I’m one of those guys that I think they’re one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
“I see a team that, if I was them, I wouldn’t be conceding anything,” Butler added. “On paper, they’re a really talented team.”
The Greyhounds now prepare for a stretch that sees the team play five times on the road over the next two weeks, beginning on Sept. 28 in London against the Knights.
In other action around the OHL on Friday night, Kyle Maksimovich had three goals and an assist as the Erie Otters beat the Flint Firebirds 12-1 in Erie. Gera Poddubnyi chipped in with two goals and two assists. Christian Girhiny set up four goals for Erie.
In Saginaw, Anthony Salinitri had two goals and an assist as the Sarnia Sting beat the Saginaw Spirit 6-2. Jacob Perreault also had two goals for Sarnia.
In Barrie, Nick Donofrio made 28 saves as the Hamilton Bulldogs doubled up the Barrie Colts 4-2. Arthur Kaliyev had a goal and an assist while Brandon Saigeon and Matthew Strome chipped in with two assists each for Hamilton.
In Owen Sound, Mack Guzda made 25 saves as the Owen Sound Attack blanked the Sudbury Wolves 3-0.