Coach Craig Duncanson was under no illusion that the Sudbury Wolves were going to post a record of 68-0-0-0 this winter.
Still, a tough 3-2 road loss to the North Bay Battalion after holding a 2-1 lead entering the third period of play is not an easy way to see a two-game season opening win streak come to an end.
Thankfully, according to the man behind the bench, it was not for lack of effort.
“We had a lot of chances to score five or six goals again,” said Duncanson, who had seen his young squad post back to back 6-3 victories to start 2021-2022, one at home and one on the road.
“Their goalie (Joe Vrbetic – 7th rd pick of Montreal Canadiens in 2021) played very well and we didn’t capitalize. They’re a very good team and they keep coming at you.”
Fresh off earning OHL Player of the Week honours, captain Jack Thompson opened the scoring for the visitors, netting the only goal of the opening frame. The middle stanza would see the long-time northern rivals trade tallies, with Josh Currie pulling the Battalion even before rookie Alex Assadourian restored the Sudbury advantage, burying his first OHL goal.
Expected to contend with the Eastern Conference leaders this season, North Bay deadlocked the contest at 2-2 thanks to a power-play goal from Simon Rose, with veteran Brandon Coe recording the game-winner at 13:05 of the third period. It was the third goal in as many games for the fourth round pick of the San Jose Sharks who got 17 AHL games under his belt last year with the San Jose Barracuda.
The Battalion outshot the Wolves 33-32, with Mitchell Weeks making his third appearance of the long weekend between the pipes for the local juniors. Averaging almost five goals a game in the early going this fall, Duncanson knows that his team will gradually find a healthy balance, starting to cut down on some of the defensive breakdowns that are leading to quality chances for their opponents.
“Quite frankly, our offense won’t work without good defense,” said the first year OHL bench boss. “In this league, turnovers happen so fast; your offense often starts in your own end. If we’re not solid and on the right side of the puck there, out offense will suffer.”
“I think we will concentrate on playing good “D”,” Duncanson added. “We have very gifted offensive players who will create opportunities from the defensive zone.”
While a one-goal loss is always a tough one to swallow, the Wolves (2-1) still find themselves locked in a three-way tie for the Central Division lead with both the North Bay Battalion (2-1) and the Niagara Ice Dogs (2-0). The former first round NHL pick is not about to lose his perspective.
And on a day where a handful of locals will try and conquer the most tradition-filled distance race of the calendar year in Boston, Duncanson veered to a most timely analogy.
“As I try to explain to the boys, it is a marathon,” he said. “Three games into sixty-eight, as far as marathons go, well, we can still see the starting line and the Kenyans haven’t even stretched yet. We have a ways to go – we want to keep getting a little better every day. At the end of the race, I think if we stick to the process, we will be in good shape.”
It’s been an interesting start to the new season for the Wolves, with defenceman Jack Thompson leading the entire league in scoring (3G and 5A) and the likes of Giordano Biondi, Ryan Smith, Evan Konyen and Nathan Ribau joining New Jersey Devils’ prospect Chase Stillman in a quintet of point-a-game producers.
For his part, Duncanson is not concerned in the least that some of the names expected to factor more prominently in the offense will get there – likely very soon.
“Nick DeGrazia and David Goyette have played very well, even though they haven’t showed up on the scoresheet,” he stated. “They’ve been paying attention to the process, working hard and getting chances, so that will come.”
The Wolves will continue a stretch that sees them playing six straight road games on the heels of their home opener, making the eastern swing next weekend with stops in Peterborough (Thursday), Kingston (Friday) and Ottawa (Sunday).
A second outing to Sault Ste Marie on (Wednesday) October 20th will give way to four of their next five matches being at home, with Hamilton, Oshawa, North Bay and Niagara all visiting the Nickel City as October flows into November.