Despite the modest record, Sudbury president and general manager Blaine Smith has been impressed with the team’s will.
The Wolves have battled injuries to key top players, played nearly double the road games compared to home games (six to 11), adjusted to an entirely new coaching staff from last season and even had their first game of the season cancelled because of fog in Sudbury Community Arena.
The fact the Wolves have fought through the adversity and still have a record above .500 is what impresses Smith. He sees a team forging an identity of one that will not give up and one that will and can compete against the best teams in the league.
“We have been through a difficult part of the schedule and we have not had a full lineup, but I believe we are starting to come together as a team,” Smith said. “All things factored in, I am pleased where we are in the standings. At the quarter pole, I think we have the makeup of a team that can compete for winning the Eastern Conference.”
The Wolves could get a significant boost overall with the anticipated return of Dominik Kahun, who has been out for all but one game this season with an upper body injury. Kahun is a key cog for the Wolves and his talents have been sorely missed. Kahun rung up 13 goals and 40 points last season.
Smith expects Kahun to play tonight in North Bay and give the Wolves' power play (16th in the league) a shot in the arm among other aspects.
“Kahun has been given the green light to play,” Smith said. “He would be a big boost. He brings a lot of skill and offence. He is really good at face-offs. Our power play has been sputtering and it has dropped. Kahun will bring another dimension to the power play and he will help. He is also one of the best shoot-out artists in the league and will help us there. Dominik Kubalik feeds off a guy like Kahun, so we should see his game go to another level, too. Having Kahun back will make a big difference.”
First, the bad news is the Wolves will still be without ace centreman Jacob Harris, who is still week-to-week with an upper body injury. Harris was enjoying a stand-out season (13 points in 12 games) before a hit against Kingston on Oct. 25 sent him to the sidelines.
Captain and defenceman Kevin Raine is questionable for tonight and the weekend. He re-injured an upper body injury against Guelph on Nov. 3. He is day-to-day.
Forward Brody Silk is still out indefinitely due to surgery.
Now, the good news. The Wolves have hired former player Miguel Beaudry as the new goalie coach, replacing Scott Murray who left to be the associate goalie coach with the Washington Capitals in September. Beaudry played two-and-a-half seasons with Sudbury and one-and-a-half seasons with Mississauga in the OHL from 1999 to 2003. The Verner native played minor pro hockey from 2003 to 2010 in the Central Hockey League. Beaudry has been the goalie coach for the Sudbury Nickel Barons the last few seasons.
“Miguel is an excellent communicator and he brings a lot of knowledge and expertise to the club,” Smith said.
The Wolves feature a veteran roster. With so many returning players from the 2012-13 season, it didn’t take much thinking to realize spots for rookies were going to be at an absolute premium this season.
Despite this, and largely due in part to several significant and long-term injuries, rookies have made their presence felt in the Wolves matches.
Defenceman Stefan LeBlanc has made the biggest splash, coming in as a poised and skilled 17-year-old defender, he has picked up two goals and nine points in 17 games. He has played so well, he is usually on the second pairings of d-men and a mainstay on the power-play unit.
Defenceman Kyle Capobianco was the team’s first-round pick in 2013, and he has shown flashes of elite skill.
Goalie Troy Timpano has also shown he could be in store for a long, productive OHL career after making the team as a 15-year-old.
Forwards Austin Veleke and David Zeppieri have stepped into the league and provided solid minutes.
“Timpano is being brought along slowly, but he showed he can play at this level against Belleville a few weeks ago,” Smith said. “Zeppieri is a hard-working guy making the most of his opportunity. Capobianco has done more than we would like him to - he has taken chances and been caught a few times - but we like he has the confidence, character and skill to try and do some big things. LeBlanc has the ability to defend and score because he is so good with the puck. Our future is bright.”