A three-game winning streak has catapulted the Wolves into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings and the players are determined to keep it going. It hasn’t been an easy climb up the ranks. The Wolves have had to get down and dirty to earn their points over the stretch. They know there is even more than can do.
They are prepared to block more shots, hit harder, and whatever else it takes to generally make life miserable for opposing teams.
“Any of us will do anything for this team,” grinding forward Nathan Cull said.
The Wolves are in the midst of an eight-game home stand. They have started it on the right foot by going 2-0. The Wolves hope to make it 4-0 after the weekend when they host Sarnia on Friday and Central Division rival Mississauga on Saturday. The recent success and place in the standings has built up plenty of confidence in the Wolves.
“The players are feeling good about themselves,” Sudbury head coach Paul Fixter said. “They’ve worked hard and earned it. But, we’re not even halfway through the regular season, so there is a long way to go. The plan is to be on top at the end of the season. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Our job as coaches is to allow the players to celebrate to some extent right now, but not let their heads get too big.”
With Sarnia and Mississauga coming to town - two teams below the Wolves in the standings - there will be no excuses allowed for any lack of performance on the part of the Sudbury players. These are just two games they can simply not afford to lose. Fixter wants to see his troops play more of the same as the last two home games, which resulted in wins.
Sudbury was excellent on the specialty teams in wins over Niagara and Ottawa, scoring four power play goals on five chances and killing off five of six penalties against. This, coupled with some good old fashion hockey such as taking the body, crashing the net and going the distance needs to be the full time characteristic of the Wolves if the wins are going to continue to come.
“I want the players to build off the way they have been playing,” Fixter said. “We have gotten good results due to a good work ethic and perseverance. The big thing for us is understanding it always takes a team effort and playing 60 minutes of hockey.
"It’s a cliché, but it is the reality for us. The schedule is in our favour right now and we have to take advantage of it. There are no easy games. We want to stay on the roll we are on. Now that we’ve moved up the standings, we want to try and get some separation from other teams. You do that by winning games, especially at home.”
Fixter expects a tough challenge from Sarnia and especially Mississauga, since the latter has provided stiff competition thus far. All three of the previous Sudbury-Mississauga match-ups have gone past regulation, with Sudbury winning one overtime game and Mississauga winning one overtime game and one shoot-out game.
“We have battled Mississauga hard. They play the right way. If we get points off them, we are earning them,” Fixter said.
Cull and the other grinder and bangers on the Wolves take a lot of pride in doing the dirty deeds and sometimes nasty side of the on-ice business. Cull, Danny Desrochers, Ray Huether and Matt Schmalz have done everything from dish out board-rattling body checks to dropping the gloves and fighting without complaining to push the Wolves in the right direction. They know their jobs come with little fanfare. They do it regardless of glory. It is a source of pride for them. They will continue to get in the face of the competition no matter what.
“We all love playing hard and we love our jobs,” Cull said. “We have to do whatever it takes to help the team and stay in the league. It’s not an easy job.”
The Wolves will not have the services of defenceman Evan de Haan this weekend and he is out week-to-week with an upper body injury. Forward Brody Silk is out indefinitely with shoulder surgery.
The Sarnia Sting and Mississauga Steelheads come to town this weekend to provide the competition for the Sudbury Wolves. The Sting make their lone appearance in the Nickel City Friday night at Sudbury Community Arena for a 7:30 p.m. game. The Steelheads run into town Saturday for a 7 p.m. game. Here’s a quick look at both teams. (Note: All stats are as of Tuesday press deadline.)
The Sting are in tough this season, but it isn’t all doom and gloom as they rebuild. Sarnia sits at the bottom of the Western Conference and the league standings. They lost a lot of firepower from last season that was impossible to replace. In their first 28 games, the Sting went 9-17-0-2. The Sting feature one of the best offensive defencemen in the league in Anthony DeAngelo. The third-year defender had nine goals and 39 points in 27 games. DeAngelo has been consistent if anything with 16 points in October and another 16 points in November. The game also marks the return of two former Wolves players - blue liner Jimmy McDowell, who was traded to Sarnia for defenceman Craig Duininck and an exchange of draft picks and goalie Taylor Dupuis, who was traded for a pick. McDowell had three goals and six points in his first eight games with Sarnia. Dupuis is 6-10-0-2, with a 3.66 goals-against-average and .909 save percentage. The game also marks the second and last meeting between the two clubs in the regular season. Sudbury beat Sarnia 6-3 on Nov. 2. It was the Nathan Pancel and Mathew Campagna offensive show in the game as they combined for 10 points in the victory. Pancel had three goals and five points and Campagna had two goals and five points. DeAngelo recorded one goal and two points in the loss. The Sting plays in North Bay tonight.
The Steelheads and Wolves have formed an exciting rivalry so far this season through the first three meetings. The games have been high-scoring and each game had to go into extra time to figure out the winner. The Steelheads beat Sudbury 5-4 in overtime on Sept. 29. Sudbury dumped Mississauga 6-5 in overtime on Oct. 19. Mississauga defeated Sudbury 5-4 in shoot-out on Oct. 27. Not much has separated the two clubs in the games up to this point. Sudbury forwards Nicholas Baptiste (three goals, five points), Campagna (five assists), Pancel (four goals, five points) and Connor Crisp (three goals, four points) have enjoyed the most offensive success against the Steelheads in the three previous games. Mississauga defender, Trevor Carrick, has been shining bright against the Wolves, with three goals and eight points in the three games. Mississauga forward Dylan Smoskowitz has four goals and five points in the three games. Mississauga’s power play has been effective against the Wolves, going 7-for-13 in the three games. The Steelheads have also stymied the Wolves power play, killing off 12 of 14 man advantages. The two teams haven’t met in more than a month, so it will be interesting to see how much each team has progressed since their last meeting on Oct. 27.