Sudbury Wolves head coach Paul Fixter wanted one thing established before the 2013-14 regular season started. As the new head coach, Fixter wanted to see a clear sign his team would be ready for a 68-game haul through hell that is known as the OHL schedule.
He got it in the final game of the exhibition season last week on the road as the Wolves fought back from a 3-0 first period deficit to win 4-3. Fixter and associate coach, David Matsos, liked what they saw.
“What has impressed the coaching staff has been the work ethic of this team,” Fixter said. “In the final game against the Soo, they found a way to battle back and win. They showed perseverance. It was an encouraging sign.”
While some argue the exhibition season doesn’t really matter, Fixter said it is vital, more so this season as a new coach. The Wolves trip to Russia for a world club junior championship event had mixed results, but it served to bring the team together more. It was needed.
“Any time a puck is dropped and a game played, it is important,” Fixter said.
It is the dawn of a new season. There are many variables that come into play for the Wolves. There will be no shortage of elements to hone. Fixter is fully aware the coaching staff must also step up and ensure the players develop and improve.
“We have worked some kinks out,” the coach said. “We will need to work on some of our coverages. We also need to work on our specialty teams. There is lots of work to do.”
The Wolves open the 2013-14 regular season with a home-and-home series against their Northern Ontario rivals from the Western Conference, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Friday night. Game time is 7:35 p.m. Then, they hit the road to face the Hounds on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
It will be a stiff test to open the regular season for the Wolves. With the regular season ready to commence, Fixter has high hopes the team will follow through and build off a strong pre-season and continue to nurture the team-first mentality and fight for a win in every game. He has seen it in the players. Fixter knows they have it in them.
“The biggest thing with these guys are they believers,” he said. “It is a big positive for the coaches to have that in players.”
Sniffing out the Greyhounds
Opportunities reign supreme with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2013-14.
The Greyhounds were one of the most pesky teams in the OHL last season thanks to a balanced attack, good goaltending and a stingy defence corps.
They finished sixth in the Western Conference with a 36-26-3-3 record. But graduations hit the team hard in the off-season, taking its top five scorers, including 103-point man Nick Cousins.
It doesn’t mean pasture time for the Soo though. Forwards Andrew Fritsch and import Sergey Tolchinsky, who combined for 103 points last season, will lead the offensive assault. On the back end, Edmonton Oilers 2013 first-round pick, defenceman Darnell Nurse will lead by example as the new captain. Last season, he racked up 12 goals, 41 points and 116 penalty minutes in 68 games.
Sault Ste. Marie general manager Kyle Dubas sees a team that has potential.
“We are in transition right now,” Dubas said. “But we will get through and be better as the season goes on because we have some solid young players to build around.”
Greater Sudbury connection: Trent Mallette. The Levack boy made the Hounds last season as a 16-year-old and didn’t disappoint. The 5-10, 160-pound forward picked up five goals in 58 games, seeing about six to seven minutes per game as a rookie. He has the tools to do a lot more with more ice time.
Hometown boys: The Greyhounds have the opposite end of the age spectrum represented with their own local players. Overager Patrick Watling was brought in to provide a steady influence in the forward ranks. He played last season with Guelph and rang up 12 goals and 25 points in 53 games.