Moral victories are no more in the mind of Sudbury Wolves' head coach Derek MacKenzie.
In spite of seeing his team put forth a sound defensive effort, one the Wolves could only have dreamed of mustering in the first half of the year, and picking up a valuable point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Barrie Colts Sunday afternoon in Sudbury, MacKenzie was definitely more fixated on raising the bar for his team.
“It feels like we’ve had this interview too many times,” he said not all that long after Barrie had capitalized on a pair of power-plays, deadlocking the contest at 1-1 midway through the third (Jacob Frasca) and walking away with the overtime victory when Ethan Cardwell buried a cross-ice feed from Brandt Clarke, the Wolves down a man (four on three) at the time.
“We should have won that game and didn’t,” continued the former captain and coach with the Florida Panthers. “We found a way to lose the game and that’s disappointing.”
If at times during his tenure to date, MacKenzie has been willing to live with steps in the right direction in spite of an end result that might not be the desired outcome, the ultra-competitive bench boss clearly believes his team needs to shift their mindset forward, even more.
“We had the opportunity to win this game and I think we’re past this point, as a group,” he said.
“We can’t keep talking about how we deserved better, or how we didn’t get a break or didn’t get a call. We deserved the penalties that we got. We deserved the outcome that we got. It was a winnable game, a game that was ours to win and we found a way to lose the game.”
"We’re a good hockey team, a really good hockey team,” MacKenzie said. “We played a great game against Mississauga and I thought, for the most part, we played really good again tonight. But that’s just not good enough at this point in the season.”
Throughout his playing career, few have ever questioned the deeply rooted desire for victory that burns within Derek MacKenzie. Now, he seeks to find a way to instill it within a team that he clearly believes in.
“I’m clearly frustrated, clearly disappointed for one reason: I know we’re better,” he said. “The guys have been great. They’ve bought in, they execute, they sacrifice – but at the same time, I’m going to hold them to that standard. We can’t come back with excuses. I’m sick of feeling sorry for ourselves.”
For two periods and a bit, MacKenzie could not have asked for much more – save perhaps an insurance goal somewhere along the way. Chase Coughlan slammed home a pass from Alex Pharand in tight, giving the Wolves a lead at the end of the first period (1-0) that has so often been their calling card this season.
But if games early in the year would slip away with defensive lapses left, right and center, such was not the case on Sunday. The Wolves outshot the Colts 39-30 and, for the most part, limited the quality scoring chances for their divisional rivals who were playing their third game in as many days. When breakdowns did occur, rookie netminder Nate Krawchuk was again on top of his game.
On the heels of his first ever OHL shutout Friday night against the Steelheads, the 17 year-old Thunder Bay native put together a streak of 116:07 between goals allowed, now going almost seven full periods since the last time he surrendered an even strength tally.
For his part, veteran defenceman Andre Anania did concede that there is something to be said for the defensive improvement in the play of the Wolves, likely the single biggest talking point around the rink for those who follow the team closely.
“We’ve got a good structure going,” said the 19 year old native of Richmond Hill. “We’re reading each other very well, especially with the d-men and the centremen in the corners, making simply plays, simple exits – and it translates in the offensive zone as well.”
Known for his rugged play and clear-cut willingness to mix things up, Anania has managed to maintain a physical edge, all while avoiding the costly trips to the sin-bin. To wit – after accumulating 23 minutes in penalties in his first 14 games of the season, the 6’1” 193 pounder has but two minor penalties on his slate in his past 11 games.
“You have to kind of learn the middle ground - what’s a penalty and what’s not a penalty - and then play within the rules,” he said. “That goes hand in hand with keeping the game under control. In a 1-0 game, we can’t be taking chances to even get penalties.”
Three points ahead of the Oshawa Generals in the fight for the final playoff spot but with two less games remaining, the Wolves will host the Sarnia Sting next Friday before hitting the road for weekend encounters with both Mississauga and Oshawa.