Sudbury Wolves president and GM Blaine Smith mortgaged the future of the team to build a roster designed to take a run at the OHL championship.
Now he — along with the coaches, management, ownership and fans — want results.
The Wolves have been struggling over the last month and it has them in a dog fight for first place in the Central Division with North Bay and Barrie. It doesn’t sit well with Smith and he wants everyone to know he isn’t happy with the team’s performance over the last 15 to 20 games.
“I’m pretty pissed off with the way things are going,” Smith said. “I’m disappointed with some of our older guys who are not carrying the load right now and they should be.”
Smith is the last person to be making excuses for the team’s woes.
“The easy thing to do is point at the injuries we have, but every team goes through injuries,” Smith said. “For us to win, our best players have to be their best. Every game.
“From my perspective, some of our best players have not played as hard as they possibly can. I’m not seeing a consistent work ethic. We have a lot of reasons for us not to be successful, but good teams rise above adversity of any kind and find a way to win.”
Getting the offensive going again would be a big factor in putting the Wolves back on the right track. The team has struggled to score.
“Our offence has dried up in the second half,” Smith said. “There have been some real disappointments offensively. We need offence. The guys have to get it going. It lies in their hands. They have to go out there and compete.”
Injuries have hit the club hard. Defenceman and veteran leader Craig Duininck is out week-to-week with a lower body injury. Defender Conor Cummins is out until at least the end of April after having surgery on a broken collar bone. Brody Silk is day-to-day with an upper body injury. Nathan Pancel is day-to-day with an upper body injury.
One player who has been injured, but remained in the lineup, has been defenceman Jeff Corbett. He was a mess after the Erie game on Monday with four stitches under his nose from a high stick he took, and about 10 stitches across his right cheek from a skate blade.
Corbett only missed the time it took to get patched up with needle and thread.
“Jeff has been a warrior for us,” Smith said. “Anyone knocking his will to compete is wrong. He has played through a lot of injuries this season. We hope others on the team follow his lead.”
Wolves readying for Storm, IceDogs
The top team, by record, comes to town this week to provide stiff competition for the Sudbury Wolves.
The Guelph Storm makes its one and only appearance in the Nickel City when the team rolls into town Friday night for a 7:30 p.m. game at Sudbury Arena. The Storm have been the class of the OHL this season and own the best record in the league.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Wolves also host the rebuilding Niagara IceDogs on Saturday for a 7 p.m. match, which also happens to be the annual Vale Sudbury Saturday Night game. The action caps a busy stretch of home games for the Wolves. Here’s a quick look at Guelph and Niagara. (Stats are as of Tuesday press deadline.)
There is only way to accurately describe the Storm this season — they have been absolute beasts and have terrorized the league on their home ice and in hostile rinks.
The Storm have been nearly impossible to beat, ringing up a 46-10-2-1 record in their first 59 games and leading the league overall in points. Where to begin? The Storm has it all. No. 1 offence in the league (295 goals for)? Check. No. 2 power play and penalty killing in the league?
Twelve players with double digits in goals? Check. One of the league’s best goalies (Justin Nichols - 32-5-1, 2.81 GAA, .920 save percentage)? Check. Best home and road record? Check. It goes on and on.
Stopping the Storms’ offensive guns is the challenge. Forwards Scott Kosmachuk (42 goals, 85 points in 59 games), Kerby Rychel (28 goals, 78 points in 49 games), Robby Fabbri (39 goals, 76 points in 49 games), Zack Mitchell (26 goals, 71 points in 59 games ), Brock McGinn (36 goals, 71 points in 49 games) and Jason Dickinson (23 goals, 69 points in 59 games) have stats that would make one think they are a league all-star squad.
It all adds up to a daunting test for Sudbury.
The IceDogs may not have a flattering record, but they are desperate and it makes them dangerous. Niagara is fighting for its playoff life as they hold down ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Dogs are scrapping tooth-and-nail with Ottawa and Mississauga for the final two post-season spots. It must be noted Belleville, in tenth and last place, has crept into the playoff picture as well.
The IceDogs are in must-win mode. Sudbury has had its way with the IceDogs all season, keeping them on a short leash and winning all five games in the regular season Central Division series so far.
Forward Carter Verhaeghe has enjoyed a bust-out campaign and leads his team with 74 points in 56 games. Last season, Verhaeghe put up 44 points in 67 games. Verhaeghe has nine points in his last nine games. Sophomore winger Brendan Perlini is also enjoying a break-out season. He's projected to be a high NHL draft pick this year. Perlini has 30 goals and 64 points in 49 games. The IceDogs road record leaves a lot to be desired though, as they are 7-18-1-4.
With a roster made up of mostly veteran players and with moves made during the regular season, the Wolves rookie contingent consists of five players who have had to wait patiently for ice time.
Defencemen Kyle Capobianco and Austin Clapham and goalie Troy Timpano and forwards David Zeppieri and Austin Veleke carry the torch for the future at the present time for Sudbury. Their time in the spotlight will eventually come, but with Sudbury making a push for a long playoff drive, the rookies are going to have to be content to learn as much as they can from what ice time is afforded them.
Capobianco is the key for obvious reasons. He was Sudbury's first round pick in 2013, seventh overall. Capobianco has 11 points and a +2 rating in 44 games.
Timpano is 5-1-1-1 with a 3.68 goals-against-average and .885 save percentage. He was rock-solid in two games against Niagara in February, going 2-0 with a 2.00 GAA and .931 save percentage.
Zeppieri has impressed with his attitude, drive and aggressive style of play in 33 games. Clapham and Veleke have been serviceable in a handful of games each as emergency call-ups.
“Troy’s record speaks for itself. He is a capable goalie,” Smith said. “Zeppieri hasn’t played a lot, but we love his energy and he is captain material. Kyle is skilled and starting to get better. Clapham is a fluid skater and has an edge. Veleke has size and needs to be physical.”
(Editor's note: This article was written in advance of the Feb. 26 game vs. the Soo Greyhounds).