No second chances in the playoffs: Raine
When Sudbury Wolves captain Kevin Raine looks around the dressing room, he sees a group of young men ready to deliver on potential.
Raine sees a team prepared to make a run in the playoffs and serve notice to the league the Wolves are for real.
“It is playoff time and we are playing for our lives, not the standings,” Raine said. “It is all on the line. If we lose, the season is done. We have to rise to the occasion. There is no second chance.”
Sudbury (fifth in Eastern Conference with a 33-24-3-8 record) begins its 2014 playoff season by taking on the Barrie Colts (fourth in Eastern Conference with a 37-28-1-2 record). Games 1 and 2 are in Barrie Thursday and Saturday, both starting at 7:30 p.m. The series shifts to Sudbury next week for Games 3 and 4 on March 25 and 27.
The Wolves are expecting a tough tilt against the Colts. Sudbury lost four of its last five games prior to the end of the regular season. The Wolves did earn a victory in their last game of the season, a 2-1 triumph over first-place Oshawa, and the hope is the good vibes from that win will carry over into the post season.
“Any series is going to be emotional regardless of rivalry,” Raine said. “We have struggled lately. We keep saying we are going to bounce back. We can’t do that anymore. If we don’t bounce back now, we are in trouble. The win in Oshawa helped us out. It gave us a boost. We have more confidence. We have to shut down their top guys. They have some big guns up front. We have to keep them on a short leash. We all have to contribute and do our jobs.”
Sudbury management is expecting nothing but a long run in the post season for the team. Sudbury president and general manager Blaine Smith put his neck out on the line at the trade deadline in early January by giving up five second-round draft picks and promising defenceman Stefan LeBlanc to acquire veteran forward Radek Faksa and veteran defender Trevor Carrick from Kitchener and Mississauga, respectively, in separate deals.
They were costly moves, but made sense at the time. The Wolves were first in the Central Division and second in the Eastern Conference coming out of December and in January. The Wolves were rolling and were a feared contender. The team struggled down the stretch and lost its grip on first place and had to settle for fifth. The time to perform is now.
“We certainly feel we have a good opportunity against Barrie,” Smith said. “Last year, we moved our older players to Kitchener and London and made the decision at that point to build for this season. When the team went on the winning streak, it seemed things were falling into place, so we felt we could add a top forward and top defenceman we would give ourselves a good chance of going places in the playoffs. Nothing is guaranteed in this league.”
Sudbury head coach Paul Fixter and associate coach David Matsos have built a plan and hope it will be executed to perfection against the Colts. Fixter expects five things out his team against Barrie.
“Play hard. Play well. Play smart. Play disciplined. Play to win,” he said.
The Wolves will be without the services of forward Jacob Harris (day-to-day with upper body injury) and Conor Cummins (indefinite with upper body surgery).
Corralling the formidable Barrie Colts
It doesn’t take a team of geniuses to figure out why the Barrie Colts finished in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, while also surging at the end of the season by winning their final three games.
The Colts are a balanced team with quality offence led by some dangerous forwards and an effective D-corps led by defender Aaron Ekblad — the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft.
The offence and defence corps have more than made up for a lack of goaltending experience. It makes for a formidable foe for the Sudbury Wolves in the first round of the playoffs. Barrie and Sudbury are bitter rivals and this year adds another chapter to their gritty, tough and, at times, nasty, post-season book.
Here is a look at the Colts.
The Colts were one of the more potent teams in the Eastern Conference with 266 goals for, second overall. The offensive attack is sparked by forwards Andres Athanasiou and Zach Hall. The pair combined for 165 points during the regular season. Athanasiou racked up 49 goals and 95 points in 66 games.
He enters the post season with eight goals and 13 points in his last eight games. Hall put up 12 points in his final seven games. Winger Brendan Lemieux saw his stock rise all season and he finished strong with six goals and nine points in his last seven games. Rookie forward Andrew Mangiapane finished third overall in rookie scoring in the OHL with 24 goals and 51 points in 68 games, earning himself tons of respect as a freshman.
Overall, the Colts had seven players hit at least 20 goals on the season, while 11 players hit double digits in goals. Stopping the Barrie offence is key.
The Colts allowed 218 goals against, third best in the conference. The defence, and team for that matter, is lead by captain Ekblad. The 6-foot-4 defender piled up 23 goals and 53 points in 58 games. Ekblad has seven points in his last seven games. The Colts defence group is big, mobile and experienced. Jake Dotchin (36 points) and Jonathan Laser (23 points) eat up a pile of minutes for the team and are battle tested.
The Colts with a young goalie tandem in 2013-14 with rookie Mackenzie Blackwood getting the lion’s share of the workload and import Daniel Gibl seeing action in 27 games. Blackwood went 23-15-1-1 with a 2.98 goals-against-average and .902 save percentage. Gibl went 11-13-0-1, with a 2.96 goals-against-average and .902 save percentage. Blackwood will be the starter in the series. Blackwood went 4-1 in March to end the season with a 3.43 goals-against-average and .881 save percentage.
2014 playoff schedule
Game 1 March 20 at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2 March 22 at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3 March 25 at Sudbury, 7 p.m.
Game 4 March 27 at Sudbury, 7 p.m.
*Game 5 March 28 at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 6 March 30 at Sudbury, 7 p.m.
*Game 7 April 1 at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.
* If necessary