Exhibition game at McIntyre Arena sees Memorial Cup champs Huskies and downed by OHL’s Sudbury Wolves
If Friday night’s game was any indication, the Sudbury Wolves are poised to make a lot of noise this Ontario Hockey League season.
Their impressive 7-2 victory over the defending Memorial Cup champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies was witnessed by an official 1,425 fans at the McIntyre Arena.
Spectators were treated to big games from top NHL draft prospect Quinton Byfield, as well as local defenceman Phil Caron.
“I thought they looked really good tonight. They came out, they skated, they played with pace, they played really disciplined, they were hard on pucks, and they didn’t give Rouyn a lot of time or space,” said Wolves general manager Rob Papineau.
“It’s the best we’ve played in the preseason. We had a good six, seven days on the ice practising. We had a lot of young guys in our lineup. It was a good effort, giving up less than 20 shots,” added head voach Cory Stillman.
The Wolves opened the scoring six-and-a-half minutes into the game with a Shane Bulitka power-play goal. Byfield scored a breakaway beauty near the 16-minute mark to put his team up 2-0 at the first intermission.
A high intensity scrap between Sudbury’s Blake McConville and Rouyn’s Justin Bergeron early in the 2nd fired up the building.
Wolves rookie Giordano Biondi then increased the lead to 3 with a breakaway goal midway through the period assisted by Caron and fellow rookie Chase Stillman.
The Huskies got on the board with a power-play goal from Alexis Arsenault, but that was quickly answered with a Sudbury power-play goal from big defenceman Isaak Phillips.
Byfield broke in alone again to bury his second of the game in the final minute of the period for a 5-1 lead after 40 minutes.
The building nearly exploded when Caron sniped a goal three minutes into the 3rd period.
Huskies winger Adrian Valigura cashed in on a shorthanded breakaway a few minutes later, but Bulitka scored his second of the game 10 minutes into the 3rd to finish the scoring.
Sudbury’s rookie goaltender Mitchell Weeks stopped 17 of the 19 shots he faced in the victory.
Rouyn-Noranda, who were without their starter Zachary Emond (away at San Jose’s NHL camp) utilized both Samuel Richard and Kevyn Brassard in the loss.
Caron finished with a goal, an assist, and a plus-2 rating. He is making it very tough on Wolves brass to not keep him.
“He has come in and done what you’d expect a 19 year old to do,” said Papineau. “He’s had some composure and poise. He brings a calming effect to the back end. He’s played in the league before and he showed that he’s obviously very capable of playing at this level.”
Stillman added, “He played extremely well. He was the first star in my eyes. Carrying the puck, making the right plays, scoring some goals. If he continues to play like that, we’ll definitely continue to give him a look.”
Byfield was worth the price of admission alone. Much like he was a year ago, he was dangerous and very noticeable each time he stepped on the ice. He finished with two goals, and two assists — same as he did in last year’s game.
Papineau said, “He’s a very gifted hockey player. We try not to think too far ahead with him. He’s a young guy, and it’s really about every game, every period, every shift. That’s our philosophy, as well as his, and it’s brought a lot of success.”
Stillman added, “He’s a special player, and it’s a treat to watch him play. He moves well for a big guy and he makes people around him better. He’s a big kid who just wants to play hockey.”
The Wolves are hoping this won’t be Byfield’s last season with the team, although are probably well aware it is. They have a very deep forward group that was also missing some key players away at NHL camps for the game in Timmins, and several returnees on the blueline.
The big question mark is in the crease.
OHL MVP and World Junior hero Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is now in the pros, so it’s up to the highly-touted Weeks, and Christian Purboo, who the Wolves recently acquired from the North Bay Battalion, to be at least solid every night.
If they do, the Wolves may find themselves playing well into the spring in what figures to be a wide open OHL Eastern Conference.
Papineau said, “That’s what we’ve been building for in the last couple of years. We’ve got a good group of guys back. We have a lot of defencemen back as well. Kalle (Loponen) is coming over, after the Toronto camp as well. As the pieces start to fall into place, it’s going to create a lot of competition, and that’s good, that’s what you want when you want to be a good hockey team.”
Aside from the fantastic hockey, the game, likely to become an annual tradition, was a fundraiser for Bell Let’s Talk, an initiative to support youth mental health.
Exact numbers won’t be known for a few days yet, but the estimate is at least $10,000 was raised.
“It’s an unbelievable event,” said Papineau. “As long as they’ll have us, we’d love to be a part of it.”