While getting my notes ready for a recent broadcast, it came to me that the Wolves' improved play over the past few weeks has been more than just impressive.
Many factors have played a part in that turn around, but I keep coming back to one thing in particular, coaching.
I even went as far as saying on air that Trent Cull should get consideration for OHL coach of the year honours.
Cull is in his third season behind the Wolves bench. In 2011-2012, he guided the team to a sub .500 record of 29-35-2-2, good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but followed that with a big first-round playoff sweep of the heavily favoured Ottawa 67’s.
Last season was a break-out year as the team finished fifth with a record of 36-24-4-2. That was the Wolves' best regular-season record since the 2000-01 season and when you look back at the rash of injuries the team had, Cull probably deserved some coach of the year votes last year.
However, the year did end with a disappointing first-round sweep at the hands of the Brampton Battalion.
That brings us to this season, a year many suggested had the potential to see the team make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
I admit to having my doubts at the start. The team had a good mix of veteran leadership and young talent, but I thought there were just too many unanswered questions.
Yes, the talent was there, but for the team to have success, those young guys were going to have to up their game from where it was a year ago.
I also had some serious doubts about goal-tending, an overage 20-year-old who never performed at the level of a No. 1 and an unproven 18-year-old rookie.
Unfortunately, the season started out with my worst fears coming true.
The team underachieved through September and October posting a 7-8-0-1 record, but the worst was yet to come with a 3-7-0-3 November leaving many, including me, thinking the season may have been lost.
But bring on December and this is where Cull’s coaching really took over.
Yes, he did get some healthy bodies back in his lineup, but it’s like his message finally got through to the players.
Then, he, along with assistants Dave Bell and Jason Young, saw their team post a 6-1-2-1 record, ending 2012 back at .500 with a record of 16-16-2-5.
Two more wins saw 2013 off to a good start before the big trades happened.
Suddenly, the majority of Cull’s leadership group was gone, replaced by a goalie who had good numbers with a good team in front of him and what many called average defencemen and a 16-year-old rookie who was still learning the league.
Any coach might have felt betrayed at basically having to start over again, but not Cull. He said it was part of the game and went to work with a new-look Wolves. Not only did the team continue to roll along, they got even better and became a more confident, hard-working and exciting team to watch.
Cull has the No. 1 goaltender he’s been looking for, a not-so-flashy but solid core of defencemen and a set of forwards that has seen a number of players step up to play the best hockey of their careers.
The result, a 7-5-2-2 record since the trade deadline and a charge up the standings towards home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
A good test for Cull will be getting his team out of this current three-game losing streak that saw the Pack outscored 16-8 while going 0-3 last weekend.
The Wolves might not be the most talented team — they may not finish first in the standings — but Cull is getting everything he can out of each and every player, has fought through some big-time adversity and has turned the Wolves into a dangerous team heading into the playoffs.
If that’s not the definition of a coach of the year, I don’t know what is.
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.