Fixter: Olympics offer slumping Wolves a lesson in playing with guts
Sudbury Wolves Head Coach Paul Fixter has been watching the 2014 Winter Olympic Games closely. He sees the athletes as the prime examples to follow.
Fixter is looking for the Wolves players to be consistent down the stretch towards the playoffs and establish a style of play that will be hard to beat.
“We have to find consistency in our game,” Fixter said. “We play one good game and not the next game. I’ve been watching the Olympics and those athletes come out and compete. They want to win. It is a mindset for them.
“Champions want to win. That comes from within. It is not a formula me or (associate coach) David Matsos have to come up with. Winners compete when it matters and when it matters for hockey players is when the puck drops.”
With a tough Western Conference foe in Windsor coming to town Friday, followed by back-to-back games against two Central Division rivals on the road in Niagara and Mississauga, the Wolves have to bring their best — each game, period and shift.
“I believe you have to play eight out of every 10 games at the highest level you’re capable of,” Fixter said. “Good teams do that. It doesn’t mean you win them all, but you give yourself a chance to win.
“We need the fire in the gut to be the best — like the Olympians are doing. Olympians push themselves to their limits, to the brink.
“We know what our destination is — we want to be among the top teams in the league. It is not good enough for us to just show up and participate.”
Goal scoring, as hard as it is to imagine, has become an issue for the Wolves in the late stages of the season. It comes back to playing consistent hockey. The Wolves experienced a goal drought of sorts the last two weeks, failing to score a goal in nine periods of hockey.
The Wolves didn’t score a goal in the final two periods of a home game against London on Jan. 31 and were then shut out in back-to-back games against Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay. The Wolves finally made the red light go off in the second period of their road game against Niagara last Saturday.
The stretch of games highlighted Fixter’s point of playing with consistency.
“Nine periods without a goal is a long enough drought,” Fixter said. “We scored seven goals against Niagara. We didn’t bring that same determination the following day against Kitchener and they, honestly, had their way with us, and it costs us two points.”
Power forward Connor Crisp was brought in from Erie prior to the start of the 2013-14 season to bring scoring, size and leadership. Each box has a heavily drawn check mark in them as Crisp has provided all three elements and much more.
Crisp has 23 goals and 45 points and 100 penalty minutes in 52 games. He surpassed his career highs from last season, which was 22 goals and 36 points. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound winger has supplied a lot of muscle as well, dropping the gloves and taking on all comers for the sake of the team.
“Connor has been a pleasant addition to the team,” Sudbury president and GM Blaine Smith said. “He has a pro shot and is a big physical presence.
He has embraced being in Sudbury. He is well liked and respected by the team. He comes to play hard and he hits hard and battles in front of the net. There are not a lot of defencemen who can handle him. Nobody likes playing against him.”
Pink In The Rink
Friday’s home game marks the annual Wolves’ Pink in the Rink game, which supports the Canadian Cancer Society. Money is raised through a variety of ways, most notable a jersey auction. The Wolves will be wearing pink jerseys and they will be auctioned off online. Fans can log onto the CHL Auction website (http://auction.chl.ca/iSynApp/allAuction.action?sid=1100241) until Monday Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. to place their bids.
Proceeds from the jersey auction will be going to towards the Canadian Cancer Society. Starting bids begin at $250, and all bids must be placed in $10 increments. There will be a silent auction throughout the game featuring a number of hockey memorabilia items. Pink scarves, toques and mittens will also be available to purchase. The Pink Hooligans will be collecting old cell phones with proceeds going towards breast cancer research. Finally, fans who make a $100 donation or more to the Canadian Cancer Society will receive a pink autographed Sudbury Wolves stick, while supplies last.
It’s a home and away weekend for The Sudbury Wolves. The Windsor Spitfires make their one and only regular season appearance at Sudbury Arena on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Pack then hits the road for a Sunday tilt against Central Division rival Niagara IceDogs at 2 p.m. The Wolves finish up with a rare Monday road game against Mississauga at 2 p.m. Here is a quick look at both opponents. Stats quoted are as of Tuesday morning press deadline.
The Spitfires are reloading this season, not rebuilding. Despite shipping out their top forward and defenceman earlier in the season in a big deal with Guelph, the Spitfires remain lethal to any club not bringing its best to the game. Windsor went 33-18-2 in its first 53 games and was in fifth place overall in the Western Conference with 68 points.
In December, Windsor traded forward Kerby Rychel and defender Nick Ebert to Guelph for a king’s ransom of draft picks, including five second-round selections, and forward Brody Milne. The trade hasn’t made the Spitfires easy pickings. In fact, the Spitfires come into this week’s action hot as dragon fire. Windsor is 8-2 in its last 10 games, and play in North Bay Thursday night.
Forwards Josh Ho-Sang (26 goals, 70 points) and Brady Vail (25 goals and 69 points) are capable of big performances and leading their team to victory. Ho-Sang had six points in his last game versus North Bay on Feb. 9. Vail racked up 22 points in 12 games in January, but has cooled off with three points in four February games. Windsor went 13-11-2 in its first 26 road games. Sudbury and Windsor played on Jan. 19, with the Spitfires winning 3-1. Expect another hard fought and close game between these two clubs.
The IceDogs are desperate and it makes them dangerous. Niagara is literally fighting with Ottawa and Mississauga for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Only four points separate the three clubs. The Wolves pounded the IceDogs last Saturday 7-1 in Niagara.
The IceDogs have had trouble keeping the puck out of their net, allowing 230 goals against in their first 53 games. It is the most goals allowed by one team in the Eastern Conference and second most overall in the league. Still, these IceDogs can’t be considered spent and be put to sleep. The team features four 20-goal scorers in Carter Verhaeghe (26), Brendan Perlini (28), Anthony Diffusion (21) and Eric Ming (20). These players can inflict offensive damage and propel the IceDogs to wins.
The Steelheads are making a run for a playoff spot and fending off Niagara and Ottawa to do it. Much like the IceDogs, the Steelheads must win to keep their place in the playoff picture. Mississuaga went 21-30-1-3 in its first 55 games and sat seventh overall in the conference. The Steelheads can’t be taken lightly and are tough to beat on home ice for a team with a losing record overall. The Steelheads are 16-10-0-1 on home ice.