Huether, Cull and Desrochers came out banging and hitting and got in the face of the Generals’ top line and sent a message it was going to be a long, drawn-out battle.
They didn’t score on that opening shift, but it was inspiring enough for the rest of the Wolves to go out and grind out a 2-0 victory over the Generals.
“They pulled through huge with a great first shift, so our momentum was there and we kept up the intensity the rest of the game,” Sudbury defender Jeff Corbett said. “A big thing was our penalty kill. It’s been huge the last few games. If we keep rolling like that, it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
The first period was not for the faint of heart. The Wolves set the tone for a physical game, and the Generals matched the Wolves by ramping up their own level.
It created some spectacular collisions that sent players flying all over the ice and hitting the boards with bone-rattling force. Wolves players Kevin Raine and Jacob Harris, in particular, threw two of the more thundering body checks of the period and it had the crowd roaring for more.
“It was a playoff game,” Raine said. “These guys were not just dumping the puck and chasing it. They were coming to kill us. There were car crashes happening out there. I thought we handled that style of game well and gave as much as we took. We worked hard and blocked a lot of shots … we did a lot of things right to get the win.”
It was a defensive battle from start to finish. The Wolves had trouble generating quality chances and ended the game with only 15 shots. They only needed one that mattered on this night.
Nicholas Baptiste scored on the short side just past the midway mark of the second period to put the Wolves up 1-0. Nathan Pancel secured the win with an empty-net goal late in the third period.
Sudbury goalie Franky Palazzese was the difference-maker. He turned away 40 shots overall, including 20 in the third period when the Wolves were clinging to the one-goal lead and Oshawa worked a couple of power plays and had their goalie pulled for an extra attacker.
“Franky made a lot of big saves again for us. We owe a lot of credit to him for the win,” Raine said.
The Wolves killed off all four penalties they earned. The dedication to being a better defensive team has slowly but surely sunk into the players’ minds. Sudbury head coach Paul Fixter pointed to defenceman Craig Duininck as a shining example. Duininck came labouring off the ice after blocking shots following numerous shifts.
“Craig Duininck’s body is the same colour as his jersey — blue,” Fixter said. “He loves blocking shots. It is a contagious thing. That is the biggest change from the start of the year. Guys have bought in to the defensive part of the game and understanding the importance of it. It’s how you win games in the playoffs. Look at the block shots and commitment to throwing bodies in front of the puck tonight. It wasn’t there at the start of the year.”
The Generals would have liked a bounce or two to go their way in helping them solve Palazzese and earning a win, but it wasn’t to be. The Generals are a fairly young team with a huge core of returning players coming back next season. The coaches and managers have been thrilled with the progress of the squad, especially since they sit first overall in the Eastern Conference and are challenging any team they face.
“Overall, our coaches have done a great job managing a young team and making them structurally sound,” Oshawa general manager Jeff Twohey said. “Our road record is good and our penalty kill has consistently been in the top three in the league.
"That is about commitment. It’s more than just talent. We have four lines that can play and good depth. We have to continue to play with structure. We can’t stray away from a defence-first style of play. We have to dig deeper defensively to keep having success.”
The Wolves host the Kitchener Rangers tonight at Sudbury Community Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.
Fixter spent the previous five seasons as an associate coach and general manager with the Rangers before joining the Wolves in the summer of 2013. Fixter is looking forward to matching wits with his old friends from Kitchener.
“I really am looking forward to it,” Fixter said. “A lot of great memories there. I’m still tight with the coaching staff, but not tomorrow.”
The game’s three stars were: Franky Palazzese (first), Kevin Raine (second) and Jeff Corbett (third).
The Wolves scratched Troy Timpano, Dominik Kahun, Kyle Capobianco, Connor Crisp and Brody Silk. Crisp served a one-game suspension for a slew-footing incident.
The Generals scratched Scott Laughton, Mitchell Vande Sompel and Sam Harding.
Franky Palazzese has three shut-outs on the season.