With the playoffs on the horizon, Head Coach Paul Fixter is looking for the Wolves to dial in their identity as a tough team to play against.
He sees no other reason not to be physical and relentless — because the proof is in the play.
Last week, the Wolves lost 6-3 to Windsor on home ice. It was an effort Fixter summed up as soft and inexcusable. The team responded with back-to-back road wins over Niagara and Mississauga with efforts that earned the coach's praise for the players’ determination and intensity.
With one of the best teams in the country coming to town (Erie Otters) and a home-and-home series against Central Division rival, Barrie Colts, on tap for the weekend, the Wolves need to bring their ugly side in order to pry points out of the games.
“In Niagara, we played with anger and hostility,” Fixter said. “We followed up in Mississauga with the same effort. We played hard — the way we should be playing every game.
“We have to be tough to play against. We have to be physical and play in-your-face hockey to slow down teams with a lot of speed and skill like Erie and Barrie. That is the way the game is played.”
The Wolves host the Otters on Friday at 7:30 p.m., followed by a home-and-home series with bitter Central Division rival, the Barrie Colts.
The Wolves play the Colts in Barrie on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and finish up with an afternoon tilt against the Colts in Sudbury on Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Otters are one of the best teams in the country, not just the OHL. But while the Otters are nationally ranked in the CHL Top 10 standings, the Colts are chasing the Wolves for playoff positioning.
The Pack has to clean up its act on the power play and ensure everyone is doing their jobs from first man to last man on the team.
“Boy-oh-boy, Erie is a special team,” Fixter said. “It’s a great test to see where we are at. The importance of the Barrie games is where they are in the standings and where we want to keep them.
These are big games. We still need consistency in our game in every period. Our penalty killing has been good and we have to keep it that way. Our power play has not been good and we have to find a way to make it better.”
Players coming to new teams sometimes require an adjustment period no matter how good things seem.
Is this the case with trade deadline acquisitions Radek Faksa and Trevor Carrick for the Wolves? It seems that way as both players really ramped up their production last week in helping Sudbury win two of three games.
Faksa had one goal and seven points in his last three games, while Carrick generated three goals and five points in his last two.
“We have no issue with either player,” Fixter said. “I hear a lot of talk about goals and points with Faksa. It’s not about points. He is a complete player for us. Carrick put a lot of pressure on himself coming in. He is starting to play with poise and be a leader.”
Forward Nicholas Baptiste is enjoying a frantic February with seven goals and 10 points in five games.
The Wolves infirmary could clear out this week. Defencemen Craig Duininck and Jeff Corbett, along with forwards Dominik Kahun and Brody Silk, are all listed day-to-day with upper body issues. There is a slim chance Silk might see his first action of the season after missing 56 games due to double shoulder surgery.
“Silk is looking good, but no green light for him to go,” Fixter said. “It’s amber right now.”
A Western Conference team that has risen from the ashes and a familiar foe provide the competition for the Sudbury Wolves this week.
The Erie Otters make their one and only appearance in the Nickel City this Friday. (Game time is 7:30 p.m.) The Otters are head and shoulders above nearly all the teams in the league and ranked in the CHL Top 10. The familiar foe is none other than the Barrie Colts.
The Wolves and Colts mix it up in back-to-back, home-and-home games, with one in Barrie on Saturday and the other in Sudbury on Sunday at 2 p.m. Here’s a quick look at the Otters and Colts as they prepare to wage war for points against the Wolves.
The Otters are an all-around juggernaut. Ranked third in the CHL Top Ten (for Week 21), they own a 43-11-2 record in their first 56 games. It is close to impossible to find a weak link on this team.
The Otters have scored 251 goal for and only allowed 135 goals against, ranking third and first overall in the league respectively. Erie has the league’s best power play (31 percent) and penalty killing (86.3 percent) units. On the road, the power play (29.8 percent) and penalty killing (84.3 percent) are ranked one and two.
Simply put, the Otters own the league’s best specialty teams so it would be unwise of any team to see if it is true. Erie features the league’s top two scorers in Connor Brown (40 goals, 111 points) and Dane Fox ( 56 goals, 92 points).
Brown is hot coming in, with an 11-game point streak in which he has put up nine goals and 19 points. With superior offensive firepower, a big, mobile defence corps, one of the league’s best goalies (Oscar Dansk) and specialty teams to envy, the Otters are a contender to win the league championship. It marks a stark turnaround from the previous two seasons when the Otters were the league’s doormat, winning only 39 games. Not anymore.
There is no love lost between the Colts and Wolves. Late in the season and with playoff positions at stake now, don’t expect either team to let up.
Expect these games to be nasty at times. This is why fans love hockey — for games like these ones. Sudbury has won four of the five previous meetings, including the last two at the end of January.
The Colts enter this week’s action with a 5-5 record in their last 10 games and hold down fifth place in the Eastern Conference, sitting eight points back of Sudbury. Barrie forward Andreas Athanasiou has been racking up points the last month-and-a-half, with 21 goals and 32 points in his last 18 games prior to this week’s action.