“Our work ethic has been nothing short of outstanding recently,” Fixter said. “After our last game (a 2-1 shoot-out loss to Oshawa on the road), we had NHL scouts giving me compliments with the work ethic on our team. We take a lot of pride in it now. There is no quit on this team. Going to play three Western Conference teams is quite a challenge.”
Fixter has enjoyed watching the players “come together” over the last two months. He sees a team unified with one mission and it is making a difference on the ice.
“When players care for one another, they play hard for one another,” Fixter said.
“It’s a huge part of any team having success. Everyone has to be on the same page and pulling in the same direction. We have accomplished this and now we have to keep it going. It takes special leaders to bring a room together and we have them. And it isn’t just the guys with letters on their jerseys. We have a lot of different guys leading in different ways.”
Sudbury is 7-7-3-3 on the road this season. The Wolves want to improve the record and it comes down to having the right state of mind going into the road games.
“We have to prepare like we do for home games. We need to find a way to treat road games like home games,” captain Kevin Raine said.
Team defence and the penalty kill have become a strong suit for the Wolves. Both were lagging behind the rest of the league by December, but the players and coaches committed themselves to righting the ship and have done so. The results are concrete. So far in January in five games, the Wolves have killed off all 18 penalties they have took.
“I give (associate coach) David Matsos and the players the credit,” Fixter said.
“David has worked with them on video and implemented certain things. Franky Palazzese has been really good for us. Goaltending is a big part of the penalty kill. Your goalie has to be your best penalty killer and Frank has done that for us. Guys have bought into blocking shots and staying committed to defence.”
Forward Radek Faksa and Trevor Carrick made smashing debuts last week for the team after being acquired in two separate trades from Kitchener and Mississauga. The duo helped the Wolves earn five out of a possible six points last weekend with wins over Mississauga and Belleville and one point from a shoot-out loss to Oshawa.
Faksa rung up one goal and three points and a +3 rating, while Carrick recorded two assists and a +5 rating.
“We are here to win,” Carrick said. “I want to play solid defence for the Wolves and chip in on the power play.”
Fixter sees Faksa and Carrick bringing the Wolves to another level. After finally being able to coach them and run them through a few practices and games, Fixter has no doubt the two newest additions are going to help drive Sudbury to bigger and better things.
“These are two quality players who can play a lot of quality minutes,” Fixter said. “They make anyone around them better. Faksa is a workhorse and plays hard. Carrick has great skill and he will help our power play. They raise the level of play of our team when they are on the ice.”
Logos: Plymouth Whalers; Saginaw Spirit; Windsor Spitfires
The Sudbury Wolves hit the road for a three-game trip to take on teams from the West Division. Friday, Sudbury plays the Plymouth Whalers at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, the Wolves face the Saginaw Spirit at 7:11 p.m. Sunday, Sudbury finishes up with a game against the Windsor Spitfires at 2 p.m. Here’s a quick look at what the competition. (All stats are as of Tuesday morning deadline.)
The Whalers re-building season is coming along at a steady pace. Last season, Plymouth loaded up for a long playoff run by adding forward Vincent Trocheck, but lost — to graduation and the pro ranks — two key members in power forward Tom Wilson and defenceman Connor Carrick. The Whalers sit fourth in the West with a 16-21-0-5 record. They have been surging lately, going 3-0-0-1 in their last four games. Plymouth is playing .500 hockey on their home rink, going 8-8-0-3.
The Spirit sit in third place in the West with a record of 20-17-4-1, good for seventh place in the Western Conference. The team made their intentions clear back in November when they traded three second-round picks and a third-round pick to Niagara for defenceman Jesse Graham, who's been solid, posting 17 points in 17 games since the trade. The pieces might finally be coming together for Saginaw as they have won four straight entering the weekend. The Spirit features a couple of former Sudbury players in forward Kristoff Kontos (42-16-38-54) and defenceman Justin Sefton (42-9-10-19). Kontos leads the team in scoring with 54 points. Kontos has 12 points in his last eight games. Saginaw is 13-8-2 at home.
The Spitfires began a re-build this season, but it doesn’t mean the team is a door mat. Windsor is still capable of dishing out a harsh beating. The Spitfires went 25-16-2 in their first 43 games and sat third in the West Division. The Spitfires pulled off the biggest deal of the season when they sent Kerby Rychel and Nick Ebert to Guelph for an insane package of picks and a player. Windsor received Brody Milne and nine draft picks including five second-round picks. Milne has four goals and nine points in 15 games with Windsor. Brady Vail (22 goals, 54 points) and Josh Ho-Sang (19 goals and 51 points) are a wicked one-two punch for Windsor. Vail has 21 points in his last 12 games. Ho-Sang has 16 points in his last 12 games. Windsor is 15-6 at home.