Almost six months have passed since the Wolves’ disappointing end to the 2011-12 season. A four-game sweep at the hands of the Brampton Battalion in the first round of the playoffs certainly left a sour taste in the mouths of many.
It wiped out the team’s best regular season finish in years. It also ended the junior hockey career of OHL scoring champ Michael Sgarbossa — the first player to do that in a Wolves uniform in 33 years.
Fast-forward six months and the Wolves are on the eve of the 2012-13 season with a much different looking team. Gone are names like Sgarbossa, Kuchin, McFadden and MacDonald and in are Cummins, Ryan, de Haan, Huether and Burgess.
The one big question many people have, including me, is where is the scoring going to come from? Josh Leivo is looking to build on his 32-goal and 73-point season from last year and is the expected go-to guy this season. He got off to a good start by being the leading scorer at the Junior Club World Cup tournament in Russia.
Leivo should get some assistance on the top line by overager Michael Kantor and second-year left winger Nathan Pancel, who have developed some chemistry since being put together for the Russian tournament. It also looks like Kantor is taking on more of a leadership role with the club, while Pancel has something to prove after being overlooked in the NHL Draft.
I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from the Wolves’ two new imports. Dominik Kubalik and Dominik Kahun play an up-tempo brand of hockey and should bring a little excitement to the team’s offence.
There are three players that I think have to take their game to the next level for the Wolves to have success. Mathew Campagna, Brody Silk and Sam Schutt are all entering their third year in the league, and in my opinion, have yet to hit their stride. All three came into the OHL with the reputation of being point producers and while we have seen glimpses of that, it’s certainly not been on a consistent basis. Injuries have played a part for all three players with Campagna and Silk really hampered last season. Staying healthy will be key for these players to have a chance to live up to their potential.
The Wolves defence is led by three veterans — Frank Corrado, Justin Sefton and Charlie Dodero. You won’t find three better defencemen in the league, and they will have to be good. That’s because on most nights, they will be backed up by a trio of youngsters. The three veteran blueliners are also expected to be in the leadership group on the team, with one of them possibly emerging as team captain.
As is always the case, goaltending will be key. Joel Vienneau, who never really seemed to have the confidence in himself last season, has emerged as the number one puck-stopper to start this season.
Because of injury at the start of last year, it always seemed that Vienneau was a step behind. But he spent the off-season in Sudbury getting ready for this year and was outstanding in the Wolves tournament win in Russia.
Eighteen-year old Taylor Dupuis played himself onto the team. It looked like he might be the odd man out when the Wolves obtained John Chartrand from the Belleville Bulls, but Dupuis impressed the coaches so much, it was Chartrand who was sent home, waiting to be reassigned.
On paper, there is no reason why the Wolves shouldn’t be considered contenders in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, but of course, the games are played on the ice and not on paper. Barring another injury-plagued season like last year, that saw the Wolves only ice a completely healthy line-up a handful of times, I don’t see why they can’t be contenders.
A lot has to go right and a number of players have to up their games, but I can see the Wolves, at worse, equaling their fifth place finish from last year with the definite potential of battling for one of the conference’s top four spots.
Meet you back here in six months to compare notes.
Stew Kernan is the radio and television voice of the Sudbury Wolves, and the news director at EZ Rock and Q92. This column appears every other week in Northern Life.