With five affiliated players in the lineup and down 4-1 at the end of the second period to the team with the second best record in the entire Ontario Hockey League, things were not looking particularly good for the Sudbury Wolves on Sunday afternoon as they closed out their season series with the North Bay Battalion.
Outscoring the home side 4-1 in the third was enough to force overtime and while Josh Bloom may have spoiled the comeback bid with his third goal of the game in overtime, the Wolves were not about to bemoan an overall decent effort with a pretty depleted roster.
“That’s the kind of team that we are,” said Wolves assistant general manager Ken MacKenzie.
“We never give up; we’re resilient. We never get outworked and we knew it wouldn’t happen in the third – and it didn’t. You get that one goal and you never know what can happen. We built off that.”
With the likes of Quentin Musty (ill), Alex Pharand (ill), Nick DeGrazia (injured), Ethan Larmand (suspended) and Djibril Toure (suspended) all unavailable for action in North Bay, the script seemed ready to play out as many envisioned, with the Battalion jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first on goals from Josh Bloom and Kyle McDonald.
Kocha Delic got one back before the end of the frame but the Battalion regained control in the second with Matvey Petrov and Nikita Tarasevich hitting the mark. Landon McCallum and Bloom, with his second, traded goals early in the third before the visitors came storming back.
A pair of Chase Coughlan goals less than two and a half minutes apart allowed David Goyette to pull Sudbury even, burying his 40th of the season, with Delic drawing the assist. While a victory would have been even better, the rally is certainly something that could come in useful as reference material should these two teams meet in the opening round of the playoffs.
“Any time you come back against a team as good as North Bay, and they are a very good hockey team, I think the message to our guys is that you’re never out of a hockey game,” said the far more tenured MacKenzie of the father-son duo who have guided the Wolves hockey teams at various times.
“They’re a good hockey team, but so are we.”
“We could have just packed it in the bag and gave them the two points when we were down 4-1 in the third period and it could have easily gone to 7-1. But these guys weren’t going to let that happen. It’s definitely going to help their confidence.”
Well that, along with the fact that the Wolves have now picked up at least one point in nine of their last 12 games, now sitting just one point back of the Mississauga Steelheads, who lost 6-3 to the Oshawa Generals Sunday night.
“It’s all about the systems that you put into place – and about execution,” said MacKenzie. “I’ve always believed at every level of hockey that I have coached that you don’t learn a lot in games; you learn in practice.”
“These guys have been so diligent in practice, paying attention to details, I knew that it was just a matter of time before things would start to fall into place.”
And though the climb up the standings may not have happened the very moment Derek MacKenzie returned from Florida to guide his former team, the man who knows him best was confident the former NHL captain would find a way to turn things around.
“It’s tough to put things into place in the first week or two when you’re here, but after the first three or four weeks, I could really feel it coming. The guys were sponges, picking everything up, learning to play without the puck. That’s what Derek has been preaching since day one.”
Throw in some key if somewhat unheralded trade deadline acquisitions – after scoring just one goal for the Guelph Storm, Chase Coughlan now has eight in 30 games since his arrival in Sudbury – and the Wolves Express that sounds the horn after each and every home win was rapidly gaining steam.
“We knew coming in that these guys (Coughlan and Nicholas Yearwood) had skill, but we brought them in for their compete, to make us harder to play against,” said MacKenzie. “The offense these guys have been bringing has been a huge bonus for this hockey team. It’s nice to have that second and third wave of scoring, especially come the playoffs.”
And even though the likes of call-ups Devin Mauro and Blake Peters-Davey, Jack Lynes and Conor Walton may not have hit the scoresheet, their contribution did not go unnoticed. “I give credit to those guys,” said MacKenzie. “They gave us a chance to rest some of our regulars and that goes a long way.”