Barrie might be Wolves' best opponent to open playoffs

By: Stew Kernan - Pack Mentality

 | Mar 18, 2014 - 3:23 PM |
Sudbury Wolves forward Ray Huether drives in on Barrie Colts goalie MacKenzie Blackwood at the Sudbury Arena on March 5. The Wolves face off against the Colts in the first round of the playoffs. File photo.

Sudbury Wolves forward Ray Huether drives in on Barrie Colts goalie MacKenzie Blackwood at the Sudbury Arena on March 5. The Wolves face off against the Colts in the first round of the playoffs. File photo.

It’s ironic the Wolves finished the regular season in the same arena in which their drop in the Eastern Conference standings probably began.

Sunday night, the Wolves beat the Oshawa Generals 2-1. No, it did nothing to improve their place in the standings and no, it doesn’t erase the disappointment of letting a Central Division title slip through their hands.

But yes, it might be a performance that gives them a badly needed morale boost heading into what proves to be very entertaining, but difficult, first-round playoff series against the Barrie Colts.

Neither the Wolves nor Generals iced their A lineups. Oshawa sat the majority of their front-line players and names like Baptiste, Raine, Faksa and Duininck weren’t in the Sudbury lineup, while goalie Franky Palazzese played second fiddle to rookie goalie Troy Timpano. Those who did play put in a spirited effort, led by Timpano who was outstanding making several unbelievable saves.

Most of those players won’t get that kind of ice-time, or play in the same type of roles during the post season, but it’s hoped the players who will lead the Wolves into the playoffs took notice of what can be accomplished when you play as a team.

It’s still hard to believe it was just over two months ago — Jan. 12 to be exact — the Wolves were at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa for a first-place showdown with the Generals in what many people were predicting was a preview of the Eastern Conference championship series.

The Wolves had gone 16-2 heading into that game, had a comfortable lead atop the Central Division and were 2-0 since the trade deadline acquisitions of Radek Faksa and Trevor Carrick.

Everything was clicking; the team could do no wrong.

But despite an exciting playoff-type game, the Wolves lost 2-1 in a shootout and left Oshawa trailing the Generals by three points, instead of heading back to Sudbury with a one-point lead atop the conference.

It was from that night on things seemed to go downhill steadily.

The Wolves won just two of their next ten games and would to go on finish the last 28 games of the regular season with a record of 9-14-0-5. Gone was the division title and, even more surprising, gone was home ice advantage in at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

So, while the team rolled into that same arena four days ago in what seemed like a meaningless game, it was anything but. The Wolves had come off disappointing losses in Belleville the night before and watched the North Bay Battalion clinch the Central Division title at the Sudbury Arena the night before that.

The Pack needed something positive to happen and it did. There was no big celebration on the ice, but there was a sense of accomplishment — and a reminder about how it felt to win.

Opening the playoffs against Barrie is likely not the match-up the Wolves were hoping for in the first round, but it’s one they can feel good about. Sudbury won five of the eight games in the regular season series and on paper there isn’t much difference between the two.

These will be tough and physical games between two teams that don’t like each other very much. But that’s the kind of game when the Wolves seem to play their best.

It would be very difficult for the players to go into this type of series on a five-game losing streak, but the win in Oshawa restores that winning feeling and should gives them the confidence needed to get their game back to where it needs to be for playoff success.

A win over Barrie wouldn’t be considered an upset, but it would go a long way to help ease some of the disappointment of the last two months.

Stew Kernan is the radio and television voice of the Sudbury Wolves, and the News Director at KiSS 105.3 and Q92.

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