When the Soo Greyhounds left the GFL Memorial Gardens on Saturday night there was a sense of disappointment despite a win over the Niagara IceDogs.
On Sunday afternoon, it was that experience that helped the team battle to a 6-3 Ontario Hockey League win over the London Knights in a key Western Conference matchup for both clubs.
The Greyhounds scored three times in the second period and rebounded after what was a disappointing finish to Saturday’s game against Niagara.
“I just liked our response from Wednesday (against Sudbury), and even (Saturday), we weren’t happy with that win,” said Greyhounds Coach John Dean. “The way the guys came out and battled. We played a really well-structured game.”
Adjusting to the Knights speed through the neutral zone in the second period was a positive for the Greyhounds as well.
“The guys did a good job (adjusting), and then when it matters in the third period, they closed it out,” Dean said. “We didn’t do anything fancy.”
The game was one that saw key players make plays at key times for the Greyhounds. That included a pair of key blocked shots with the Greyhounds on the penalty kill.
The first came from captain Barrett Hayton, who blocked a point shot from Knights defenceman Evan Bouchard moments before veteran defenceman Jacob LeGuerrier also stepped in front of a shot to keep the Knights at bay.
“Our leadership group was fantastic,” Dean said. “They led the way.”
MacKay paced the Greyhounds offensively with three goals, all in the second period as the Greyhounds opened up 4-1 lead through 40 minutes.
“He’s a character kid that works extremely hard and in a big game he gets rewarded for it,” Dean said.
“It’s exciting but it’s about the team,” MacKay said.
The sophomore forward called Sunday’s game an improvement over Saturday’s victory over Niagara.
“We knew (Saturday), the third period wasn’t nearly what we’re capable of,” MacKay said. “We didn’t finish Niagara off the way we wanted to so this was a big step for us.”
Morgan Frost and Barrett Hayton chipped in with a goal and an assist each for the Greyhounds. Jaromir Pytlik also scored.
Mac Hollowell and Tye Kartye assisted on two goals each.
London Coach Dale Hunter called the Knights inability to capitalize on chances as the difference in the game.
Greyhounds goaltender Matthew Villalta stopped 28 shots, continuing his solid play from Saturday’s win over Niagara.
At the other end, Joseph Raaymakers made 21 saves for the Knights.
The win took on major importance for the Greyhounds as the team moved four points ahead of the Saginaw Spirit atop the OHL’s West Division standings though Saginaw has a game in hand.
The win also means the Greyhounds pull to within four points of the Knights atop the Western Conference standings thanks to a pair of weekend wins and the Knights dropping two games, including a loss in Saginaw on Saturday night.
“It was a tough road trip for us but you’re going to face ups and downs during the season,” Raaymakers said.
“We definitely haven’t been playing our best hockey lately,” Raaymakers also said. “WE just have to find our stride again.”
The Greyhounds improve to 35-12-5-1 heading into a road trip next week that takes the team to North Bay on Thursday night to face the Battalion before traveling to Sudbury the following night to take on the Wolves.
With wins on the weekend, Dean called it “a nice boost mentally.”
“Knowing you can beat the best teams consistently is a credit to the group and is a huge mental boost,” Dean added.
London falls to 37-9-5-1 with the loss.
Defenceman Adam Boqvist had a goal and two assists to pace the Knights offensively on Sunday.
Kevin Hancock and Liam Foudy also scored for London.
In other action around the OHL on Sunday afternoon, in Guelph, Liam Hawel had a goal and four assists as the Guelph Storm blanked the Kingston Frontenacs 9-0. Isaac Ratcliffe chipped in with two goals and an assist while rookie defenceman Daniil Chayka also had a pair of goals. Owen Lalonde assisted on four Guelph goals. Nico Daws made 29 saves for the shutout.
In Mississauga, Cole Carter had the shootout winner as the Mississauga Steelheads beat the Windsor Spitfires 3-2. Windsor goaltender Colton Incze made 51 saves.
In Sarnia, Luke Richardson made 23 saves as the Kitchener Rangers blanked the Sarnia Sting 1-0. Greg Meireles had the lone goal in the contest.
In Sudbury, Shane Bulitka’s goal at 9:59 of the third period was the game-winner as the Sudbury Wolves beat the Niagara IceDogs 3-2. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 32 saves for the Wolves. Niagara goaltender Stephen Dhillon made 41 saves.
In Oshawa, Brandon Saigeon had a pair of goals as the Oshawa Generals beat the Barrie Colts 4-1. Giovanni Vallati and Kyle MacLean chipped in with a goal and an assist each for Oshawa.