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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
Wolves with a bounce back effort versus the Battalion
by Randy Pascal

A game that almost slipped away from the Sudbury Wolves eventually bounced right back their way as the local juniors kicked off their eight game season series with the North Bay Battalion with an exciting 4-3 win, on home ice, on Sunday.

The visitors spotted the Wolves an early 2-0 lead, but gradually chiseled away at the advantage, moving ahead for the first time on a power play marker from Nickel City Hockey Association product Bradley Chenier at 7:49 of the third.

A year ago, this might have spelled disaster.

But this is nothing if not a different Sudbury Wolves team, armed with a very different mindset. Owen Gilhula picked an ideal time to bury his first marker of the season, following up on a breakaway shot from linemate Nolan Hutcheson, the latter being sprung free on a great stretch pass from Cole Candella.

And when a string of five straight power play opportunities for the Battalion was snapped with Matthew Struthers sent off for slashing with less than three minutes to play, the Wolves sat poised to complete their comeback.

Defenceman Liam Ross spotted Drake Pilon off to the right of North Bay goaltender Christian Propp. The forward's cross-crease pass attempt would ricochet directly off the shins of a Battalion defender, right back to the stick of Pilon, who quite literally was staring at nothing but net.

“All it is, really, is just not panicking, not trying to change the way we play,” said the hero of the moment, recording his second goal of the year. “Last year, we would get in a rut or get in a lull and we would start playing downhill or selfish hockey. This year, we kind of stay with our system and work together and good things are happening.”

It's a message that has been preached from coach Cory Stillman and his staff time and time again. “On the bench, the coach kind of turned us around and said, “we know how to win, we're winning this year, don't get down,” recalled Pilon of the mantra that was delivered once the Battalion secured a 3-2 lead.

The Wolves actually book-ended this contest with a pair of fortuitous goals, as a backhand pass from Shane Bulitka, looking to connect with a darting David Levin, went directly off the stick off North Bay's Adam McMaster and between the legs of Propp at the 4:29 mark of period one.

Less than a minute later, a seeing-eye shot from Zack Malik made its way just past forward Owen Robinson and a North Bay defender and just inside the post, giving the Czech import his first ever OHL goal. The marker would come in just his second game of 2018-2019, after going scoreless in his freshman campaign.

“It's been a while, so I was really happy with this one,” said Malik. “Obviously, it took some time to score my first one, but I am happy with our win tonight.” Returning to the team this past Friday after undergoing off-season surgery, the offensively-gifted blueliner is gradually being eased into what is likely to become a more expanded role, moving forward.

“It was a long time since I played my last game,” he said. “I still have just two games, but I felt really good out there. Obviously, I'm not getting that much ice time yet – I need to get into game shape – but it's coming.”

Up 2-0, the Wolves threatened a repeat performance from Friday against Erie, pressing to the point of opening up a four or five goal gap if not for a handful of key saves from Propp. His efforts were rewarded when Harrison Caines halved the deficit with the first goal of his junior career in the dying seconds of the first.

Following a scoreless middle stanza, some stick carelessness proved costly, the Battalion netting both the equalizing and go-ahead tallies while Sudbury folks sat in the sin-bin, assessed back to back high-sticking penalties (including one of the double minor variety).

But when goals from league leading scorer Justin Brazeau and Chenier were answered with the Gilhula tally, this contest had all the makings of a typical Sudbury/North Bay battle, tied late in the third period (3-3), with both teams preferring to walk away with two points but wanting to ensure themselves of at least one.

Not at all a new situation for the likes of Drake and Darian Pilon, two of the key veterans that Stillman will entrust with understanding the careful balance that is needed in these instances. “It's just realizing when you have numbers, when you have an opportunity, say if they're tired or they are on a bad change, a bad turnover,” explained Drake Pilon.

“You've got to really play conservative, especially with the numbers they like to put back there. Against them, you've got to realize that you are better off to stay back and dump it in.” Unless, of course, you can play the bounce-pass right back to yourself for the game-winning goal.

Ice Chips: A quick look at the standings revealed why the victory was even more key, the OHL Central Division teams separated by a mere five points heading into action yesterday.

The Wolves are back on the road next weekend, travelling to London to face the Knights on Friday and then busing it even a little further west the next night for a match-up with the Sarnia Sting.

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