Pack pads its lead heading into weekend action
This time, for the Sudbury Wolves, it was forward grinder Ray Huether who rose to the occasion to help the team to a crucial victory over Central Division rival Barrie on Wednesday at Sudbury Arena.
Huether scored two key goals to lead the Wolves to a 4-2 victory and extend the team’s lead on first place in the division to four points over North Bay and five points over Barrie.
Huether tallied the game’s first goal and then scored the tying goal to get the Wolves out of a 2-1 hole in the second period. It was Huether’s first multi-goal game of his 132-game OHL career and established new career highs for him in goals (eight) and points (24).
All in a night’s work for the modest Huether.
“It feels good,” he said. “Obviously a huge win. (Barrie) is right behind us. We needed those two points just to get away from them and North Bay.”
It was anything but a pretty first period for both teams, but the Colts were in control, out-shooting Sudbury 14-8 and enjoying the majority of the quality scoring chances.
Sudbury No. 1 goalie Franky Palazzese was on the ball from the opening faceoff.
Palazzese was forced to come up with a point-blank save on a big shot from the slot by Barrie’s Andrew Mangiapane about 25 seconds into the game.
It would be a common theme for Palazzese the whole game as he finished with 35 saves, including many from in close and shot by Barrie’s most dangerous snipers.
The Wolves feed off saves by Palazzese.
“He was outstanding. Again,” Wolves forward Brody Silk said. “We definitely see his big saves. He gives us a real boost of confidence.”
The teams headed to the first intermission tied 1-1. Huether scored when he finished off a sweet passing play in the crease from Nathan Pancel and Mathew Campagna. Barrie got right back in the game and tied it when Garrett Hooey slipped a shot by Palazzese.
In the second period, the Wolves got caught running around in their own zone and it cost them when Barrie’s Tyson Fawcett fired a shot from the slot and scored to make it 2-1 at 3:04. The Wolves had a quick reply thanks to Huether’s second goal of the game at 4:44 to tie it at 2-2.
The Wolves took a 3-2 lead when captain Kevin Raine’s point shot eluded traffic and beat Barrie goalie MacKenzie Blackwood at 12:34 of the middle period.
Both teams battled hard for the rest of the game, but Sudbury was able to hold off the Colts.
Nicholas Baptiste sealed the deal with a late empty-net goal to make the final 4-2. Sudbury went 0-for-3 on the power play, but the penalty kill units were perfect, thwarting Barrie’s five-man advantage situations.
“The first 20 minutes wasn’t what we wanted, but we got through it,” Sudbury head coach Paul Fixter said. “We played very well after that and the biggest thing in that first period was the number of turnovers we were giving up.
“The scoring chances were 8-2 (for Barrie). You’re not going to win if you do that, so we tightened that up and got much better. The specialty teams were good. The power play … I thought we generated some decent chances and the penalty kill was outstanding, especially when it had to be.”
As always, Fixter had the lines juggled up and new combinations. The line of Huether, Pancel and Campagna was intact and produced two goals and six points in the victory. Fixter pointed out Huether’s work ethic as the reason he busted out with a two-goal performance.
It wasn’t hard to see Huether’s impact in the game. He finished checks hard and crashed the net and was, in general, a positive and disruptive force for Sudbury through all three periods.
“I thought he had a heck of a game,” Fixter said. “He was moving his feet. He was flying. He played with some grit. He got rewarded for that. I liked all the lines. I thought all the lines gave us something.”
The Wolves were buoyed by the return of defenceman Craig Duininck, who came back early from an upper body injury since two regular defencemen — Jeff Corbett and Conor Cummins — are still out with injuries.
“He’s a warrior,” Fixter said. “He plays hard and plays the right way. He knew it was an important game and was able to come off the shelf and help us.”
The Wolves woke up in the second period and started to throw their weight around, matching Barrie’s intensity. The game featured numerous scrums after whistles and gloves to the faces. The animosity was thick at times and the players loved it.
“It was like a playoff game,” Silk said. “It was a win we needed. We started slow, but we were able to build up our energy and come together as a team. Everyone was going tonight. We wanted to win this game.”
The Wolves host the Belleville Bulls on Friday night. Game time is 7:30 p.m. Sudbury wraps up weekend action with a Sunday road game against North Bay at 2 p.m.
The game’s three stars were: Ray Huether (first), Franky Palazzese (second) and Mathew Campagna (third).
Sudbury scratched Jeff Corbett, Connor Burgess, Conor Cummins and David Zeppieri.
Barrie scratched Josh Carrick, CJ Garcia and Joseph Blandisi.