Wolves facing a tough trio of games as playoff crunch approaches
If the Wolves players are not ready to pour their hearts and guts out this week, it’s going to be a less than successful three-games-in-three-nights.
This is the way Fixter sees it. The Wolves play the Barrie Colts on the road Thursday and then head home for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday against London (7:30 p.m.) and Sault Ste. Marie (7 p.m.).
“We have a difficult weekend ahead of us and it will come down to us playing the right way,” Fixter this week. “We have to play strong defensive hockey. When we do it and do it well the way we can, the game is easier for us.
“If we get away from it, like we did in Peterborough and Windsor last week, we are a very average club. The commitment level has to be there from every player or the success will not be there.”
The Colts, Knights and Greyhounds are no doormats.
All three teams skate with the swagger of a contender. Barrie is a well-balanced squad with good scoring weapons and a resourceful defence corps led by world-class talent Aaron Ekblad.
The Colts and Wolves clashed last Sunday in Sudbury, with the Wolves getting the win, so there will be no shortage of high emotions.
London is hosting the Memorial Cup and are stacked with top players in every position. Sault Ste. Marie features, arguably, the best goalie in the league in Matt Murray and a line-up that can match any style of game.
“Barrie is going to be tough, because I am sure they want to get the two points we took on them Sunday,” Fixter said. “London is a great club obviously. We all know what the Soo is all about, because we’ve played them a lot this year.
“We have to be ready to battle hard each game.”
With 21 games left in the regular season, expectations can only get higher for the players. It’s crunch time and the final push for playoff positioning is on full force. It’s no time to be slacking on any details.
“It’s about fine-tuning and making sure our specialty teams are at the top of (their) game,” Fixter said. “The players have to find rest when they can. Commitment off the ice is important. Things like eating properly and getting good rest are going to be critical for them having a great performance.”
A familiar foe and two of the top teams from the Western Conference provide the competition for the Sudbury Wolves this week. Sudbury travels down the road to play bitter Central Division rival Barrie Colts Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The Wolves then come back home to Sudbury Arena to welcome the London Knights for a Friday game at 7:30 p.m. and host the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds Saturday night at 7 p.m. Here’s a quick look at the three teams.
The Colts and Wolves hooked up last Sunday in the Nickel City and went at each other like rabid animals. When the dust settled on the hard-hitting and, at times, rough and chippy game, the Wolves had a 4-2 victory in their pockets. This will be the fifth meeting between the two rivals this season. Sudbury has the edge so far, winning three out of the four. The last time Sudbury played in Barrie was Nov. 14, 2013 and they took it on the chin in a 7-1 loss. Barrie went 24-18-1-2 in its first 45 games and sat fifth overall in the Eastern Conference. Forward Andreas Athanasiou has been surging in January, with 10 goals and 15 points in eight games.
The Knights make their one and only appearance in Sudbury on Friday. The Knights are the 2014 Memorial Cup host. They have built a roster to challenge the best major junior teams in the country. London went 31-11-1-4 in its first 47 games and sat fourth overall in the Western Conference. In the previous meeting this season, Sudbury lost 4-1 in London on Nov. 1, 2013. Forward Max Domi has been on a tear the past two months, with 14 goals and 38 points in his last 19 games prior to this week’s action. London owner, president and head coach Dale Hunter will be honoured in a pre-game ceremony. Hunter played two seasons for Sudbury from 1978 to 1980, scoring 195 points in 120 games. Hunter went on to play 1,407 career NHL games with Quebec, Washington and Colorado. Hunter is the fastest coach in OHL history to reach 300 and 500 wins. Hunter’s No. 15 will be retired by the Wolves franchise and a banner will be raised to the rafters.
Sault Ste. Marie
The Greyhounds and Wolves continue their quest for the Bell Fibre Op Challenge Cup on Saturday night. The Soo holds a 5-4 points edge in the Northern Ontario regular season series. The Greyhounds went 33-11-1-4 in their first 49 games and sat second overall in the Western Conference. The two teams are deadlocked with two wins each in the series, with the Soo getting one extra point from a shoot-out loss. Greyhounds goalie Matt Murray has won five of his past seven starts and owns the league’s third best goals-against-average (2.49) and save percentage (.921) among starting goaltenders.