‘We all have to look in the mirror and play better’
With first place in the Central Division and second place overall in the Eastern Conference at stake, the Wolves lost 5-3 to the visiting North Bay Battalion. The loss gave the Battalion first place and the highly coveted No. 2 spot in the conference standings for the post-season.
The Battalion celebrated at the end of the game by coming together in a big scrum and lifting their sticks, to the roaring approval of several hundred North Bay fans in attendance who made the trip to the Nickel City for the game.
Sudbury entered the game three points behind North Bay, with a game in hand, and needed to win to keep pace. With only two games left in the season, Friday’s loss means there now is no way Sudbury can catch them in the standings.
Sudbury head coach Paul Fixter wanted more out of his players. He summed up the performance bluntly.
“Not well enough to win,” Fixter said. “Credit to North Bay, they played hard. That team is playing with a lot of confidence. There’s no quit in that team. They scored more goals than us.”
With first place in the Central Division and second place overall in the conference now out of their grasp, Fixter is looking for the Wolves to make a statement in the final two games of the regular season, both on the road against Belleville and Oshawa.
“Obviously you don’t want to continue to lose and feel shitty about yourself going into the playoffs, which we do right now. We have two games to find our stride again.”
It is no secret Sudbury has struggled in the second half of the season, piling up more losses than wins. The Wolves have one win in March in five games. Reality has set in and the Wolves players know they have run out of chances to get the team back on the winning track.
“We came up short tonight and it hurts because of what was on the line,” Sudbury captain Kevin Raine said.
Winning the final two regular season games is the mission now in order to claim fourth place overall and have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs against the Barrie Colts, the team Sudbury plays in the first round, regardless of results.
“It was a must-win game for us and we lost,” goalie Franky Palazzese said afterwards. “Now we face the consequences of not having second place in the conference.
“It bothers us, but we have to let it go, because we have to work to get fourth place. We have to win. We haven’t been winning at all lately. It’s gone on long enough.
“The spark has to come from within everybody. We all have to look in the mirror and play better. It needs to be a team effort every game.”
The Battalion have climbed up the conference standings, slowly but surely, since the Christmas break. North Bay looks like a serious contender and could be primed for an extended romp in the post season.
“The team has worked hard and we have been playing consistent and solid hockey since Christmas,” North Bay head coach Stan Butler said.
“Consistency in our game has been the biggest thing. Our leadership group stepped up and the players have followed their lead. I hope we can have a long run in the post season.”
The Battalion took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to goals by Matt MacLeod and Brett McKenzie. There was plenty of body contact and Sudbury’s Jacob Harris and North Bay’s Kyle Locke went toe-to-toe in a spirited scrap.
The Wolves took over in the second period and tied the game courtesy of goals by Nathan Pancel and Connor Crisp. Sudbury outshot North Bay 16-13 in the middle period and looked to have momentum on its side heading into the third period.
But a defensive collapse by the Wolves down low at 8:10 of the final frame led to North Bay’s third goal when Mathew Santos jammed the puck past Palazzese. North Bay took a 4-2 lead when McKenzie scored on a 2-on-none breakaway at 15:49.
Sudbury’s Nicholas Baptiste breathed life back into the game 20 seconds later when he launched a shot from a tough angle that eluded North Bay goalie Brendan O’Neill.
Sudbury made a push in the dying minutes, and even earned a power play and a 6-on-4 man advantage to end the game, but couldn’t solve O’Neill one more time.
North Bay captain Barclay Goodrow snuffed out any comeback attempt with a short-handed, empty-net goal to make the final 5-3 for the Battalion.
The Wolves hit the road to play Belleville on Saturday and finish the regular season on Sunday against Oshawa.
The three stars were: Brett McKenzie (first), Nicholas Baptiste (second) and Jamie Lewis (third).
Sudbury scratches: Nathan Cull, Austin Clapham, Conor Cummins and David Zeppieri.
North Bay scratches: Riley Bruce, Mike Baird, Jared Steege and Calvin Gomes.