In the opinion of Sudbury Wolves No. 1 goalie, Franky Palazzese, time has run out for the team to solve its February futility.
The Wolves lost 3-2 to the visiting Erie Otters on Monday night at Sudbury Arena. It marked the seventh loss in 10 February games for the Pack.
Palazzese pointed out Central Division rivals North Bay and Barrie are within striking distance of taking over Sudbury in the standings due to the rut the team is mired in. But the players aren't looking for excuses — the Wolves are looking for answers and quickly.
“It’s time. It’s time for guys to figure out and it better start tomorrow,” Palazzese said. “Like our coach always says, we’ve got to find the answers and we better hurry up. I think it’s just more effort to be honest.
“We go through games where you see guys that just don’t give 100 per cent. You got to in this league. Teams are so good, if you don’t get 100 per cent from every guy, you’re going to lose every game.”
On Monday, the teams were essentially evenly matched in a rather unproductive first period. The Otters woke up early in the second, thanks to a power play goal by Spencer Abraham, and took a 2-0 lead just past the midway mark of the game on a goal by Joel Wigle.
Sudbury kept pace when Evan de Haan took a shot from the point that eluded traffic and found the back of the net to make it 2-1.
The Otters restored the two-goal lead early in the third period. Connor Brown, Connor McDavid and André Burakovsky had the Wolves scrambling in their own zone and put on a passing clinic that ended with Burakovsky potting the goal to make it 3-1.
Sudbury’s Nicholas Baptiste scored a goal with just one second remaining in the game to make the final 3-2.
The loss was easy to figure out from Fixter’s perspective.
“They out-played us,” the coach said. “We had three mistakes which led directly to their three goals. I thought their energy was better than ours.
“They skated hard. That’s a team that is determined. I can understand why they’re fourth-ranked team in the nation, when you get the leading scorer of the league, Connor Brown, blocking a shot. It says a lot about the character of that team. Hopefully our guys learn from it. That is what it takes to win.”
Over the past few weeks, Fixter has hammered home the message that the Wolves need to play with more intensity, but he still isn’t seeing enough of it to satisfy him one bit.
“We still have too many passengers on this team. You can’t win if you have passengers,” Fixter said.
The Wolves (30-20-3-6) hold a one point lead over North Bay for second place in the Eastern Conference standings, with both teams now having played 59 games each.
Sudbury owns a four-point lead over Barrie. The Wolves are feeling the pressure with only three wins in the last 10 games and rivals closing the gap, but they are not stressed enough to let panic set in.
“It’s frustrating,” Sudbury defender Jeff Corbett said. “I know everyone in the room is frustrated. We’re trying to figure it out. We know we’ve got the team to make a push in the playoffs. We’re just not showing it right now.
“We have to play a better game, simple as that. The compete level is not there. (But) by all means, we’re not hitting the panic button.”
The Wolves figure they can right the ship with a stellar performance Wednesday when the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds — the second-place team in the Western Conference — come to town (7 p.m. start).
“We need a big game Wednesday,” Corbett said. “We need momentum going into the playoffs. We’ve had a rough couple of weeks and we need a big game to turn that around.”
The Otters have been a fixture in the BMO CHL Top Ten rankings during the season. It is a stark turnaround from the previous two seasons in which Erie struggled and subsequently missed the playoffs both years.
The Otters already clinched a playoff berth this season and the players, who went through a rebuilding grind the last two seasons, are enjoying being a serious contender in the OHL.
“It’s more fun this season, even practices,” said third-year Erie star Connor Brown. “The whole attitude of the team has changed and is a lot better, and everyone is happy. Being on a winning team is fun. Everyone is buying into their roles.
“We out-work other teams and it is a key our success this season. Everyone has a lot of intensity and character. We are ready for a long playoff run hopefully. We have to right guys to do it.”
It seems the Otters are hearing Fixter's message. Fans are hoping come Wednesday, the Wolves hear it too.
Sudbury forward Brody Silk left the game during the first period and did not return for the second or third period. Fixter was unclear of the extent of the damage, but did elude Silk was injured in the collar bone/ shoulder area of the side that was not repaired by surgery at the start of the season and kept him out of the line up for 56 games.
This game was played Monday after being cancelled on Feb. 21 due to unsafe ice conditions at Sudbury Arena.
Sudbury scratched Craig Duininck, Connor Burgess, Conor Cummins, Nathan Pancel and Austin Veleke.
Erie scratched Patrick Murphy, Jake Evans, Kyle Pettit, Quentin Maksimovich, Nick Betz and Dane Fox.