The Sudbury Wolves are struggling mightily right now.
Head coach Ken MacKenzie doesn’t need to be reminded of that - though many a fan may still feel the need to do so.
MacKenzie also knows that for as much as a thousand and one of the Wolves’ faithful in Sudbury feel they have the obvious answer to what is currently ailing a top end team that dropped a fifth consecutive contest Sunday thanks to a 7-6 loss on the road to the North Bay Battalion, breaking out of this funk has to come from within the 30 or so individuals who endured a long, frustrating ride home late yesterday afternoon.
“When you’re not winning, it’s obviously not a lot of fun,” said MacKenzie. “These guys work hard and get frustrated – but we talked about this early in the year. We have to stay connected. We know that we have to stick together, and that’s from the dressing room right through the team.”
The Wolves looked like a team intent on turning things around early, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals from David Goyette and Landon McCallum before the contest was six minutes old. But just as they have demonstrated in pretty much every outing with their northern rivals this year, the Battalion again displayed their knack for fighting back.
On Sunday, they fought back in spades.
By the time the barrage ended at the end of period two, tallies from Ty Nelson and Ihnat Pazii in the first and Justin Ertel, Owen Van Steensel and Anthony Romani in the middle stanza had the home side firmly in control, up 5-2 with twenty minutes of play.
Yet for as much as the Wolves are facing some adversity, with illnesses keeping goaltenders Jakub Vondras and Nate Krawchuk out of action and forcing call-up Drew Gaulton to get his first taste of OHL play with his team mired in a slump, there was some encouraging pushback to start the third.
Strikes ten seconds part by Nolan Collins and Dalibor Dvorsky closed the gap to one in the fourth minute of the final frame. Unfortunately, trading goals for the remainder of the game – Ethan Procyszyn (NB) and Alex Pharand (SBY) two minutes apart; Anthony Romani (NB) and Kocha Delic (SBY) three minutes apart – ultimately did the Wolves no good, at least not in terms of forcing an overtime session.
While the Friday matchup with Peterborough was as tough a night as Jakub Vondras has faced in net in his young junior career, MacKenzie was not willing to look solely between the pipes when it came to the third setback of the year in four encounters with North Bay. “We’re facing some adversity and we had the young guy in net and have to protect the middle a lot better,” he said.
“We’re still giving up scoring chances. When you chase a game like that, it’s tough to come back.”
Tougher still when an area of expected strength this year remains likely the largest enigma for the Pack.
“We’ve played North Bay four times and haven’t got a power play goal on them yet,” noted MacKenzie. “Whether you’re up or down in a game, a power play goal is such a momentum swing – and we’re really struggling to score a goal on them.”
“These guys have been working hard at it,” he continued. “I know that we didn’t get the results that we wanted, but we’re going to continue to work hard at it and one of these nights, it’s going to win us a hockey game – and we’re hoping sooner rather than later.”
“We’re going to continue working on our power play and we’re going to continue working on our defensive zone coverage. If we can cut back on our goals against and find a way to score a couple on the power play, things will fall into place for us.”
For as much as the white noise within the confines of the Sudbury Arena Friday night would make it easy to believe that the sky is falling, the truth is that nine of the ten Eastern Conference teams are separated by just ten points, in total, as the league nears the one-third mark of the schedule.
“We know that we’re playing well enough to win some of these games,” said MacKenzie. “We know that we will eventually.”
And the answer to doing just that lies on the same bus that the Sudbury Wolves will board next weekend, facing a tough test at home Friday night against the London Knights before hitting the road to meet up with the Oshawa Generals and Peterborough Petes on Sunday and Monday respectively.
And Ken MacKenzie knows that.