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A playoff atmosphere without the playoff hangover

For as much as a 10-3 thrashing of the Sarnia Sting was on Friday night was fun and all, the Sudbury Wolves fully appreciate that they are far better served competing in games with much more of a playoff atmosphere – the post-season being less than a month away and all.

Facing the playoff-ready Oshawa Generals for the first of what will be three times in the next three weeks, the Wolves also fully appreciated that their Saturday night encounter was NOT, in fact, a playoff game.

Locked in a tight-checking 2-2 affair after forty minutes of play in a contest that featured just 30 shots combined heading into the final period, the locals would see the tables turned from the previous night.

Where a Quentin Musty penalty shot goal kicked off a string of three tallies in 48 seconds versus the Sting, a third period uncontested snipe by Beckett Sennecke signalled the first of four unanswered third period strikes by the visitors, leaving the Nickel City with a 6-2 win.

Given that this comes directly on the heels of Oshawa triumphs over both the London Knights (6-4 last Wednesday) and the Soo Greyhounds (4-3 in OT on Friday), fair to say that the team that sits one point back of the Wolves in league standings presents a more than significant test for a Sudbury crew that had to switch gears virtually overnight.

“You go from winning 10-3 to facing a team that we could very well play in the playoffs – you’ve got to switch your mindset pretty quickly,” noted Wolves’ captain David Goyette, increasing his season total to 98 points with a pair of assists on the night.

“I thought we did a pretty good job with that. It was tied after two periods – and we let our foot off the gas at the end. Thankfully for us, it wasn’t a playoff game, so we’ll learn from that and be ready for the playoffs.”

One and all involved with the team seemed to agree that the Wolves spent little if any time resting on the laurels on an easy win versus Sarnia, knowing full well that the Generals are coming on strong.

“We talked about it; we prepared for that game; we knew that it was going to be a playoff type atmosphere,” stated coach Ken MacKenzie.

And while goals from Dalibor Dvorsky and Andre Anania had the Pack holding on to a 2-1 lead after one – Connor Lockhart countered for Oshawa – the homeside could certainly have given themselves more breathing room when the Gennies inevitably would push back.

“Our execution wasn’t great,” coach MacKenzie lamented. “We missed so many good chances early on. They give up the fewest goals in the league, so when you get those chances, you’ve got to bury them.”

Calum Ritchie pulled the Generals even, netting the only goal of period two, his 23rd of the season and first of two on the game – and setting the stage for a highly anticipated final period of play.

Sennecke forced a turnover at the Oshawa blueline to earn his penalty shot less than two minutes in and Ritchie finished off a lovely passing play from Dylan Roobroeck and Sennecke to give his team a little more cushion. Tyler Graham increased the lead to three and Roobroeck closed things off, finding the empty net late.

On some nights, MacKenzie might find fault in costly defensive miscues. In this game, however, it was more about the Wolves not doing enough to create the chances offensively.

“Last night, that’s a very young team (Sarnia), a very inexperienced team and they’re going to give up scoring chances,” he said. “We knew coming into this game that we would have to work for our chances. It’s about doing those little things that are going to win hockey games for you.”

With two more matchups between these teams remaining, it will be interesting to follow the somewhat contrasting styles, the Generals favouring a generally bigger set of forwards focused on solid two-way play versus the high-octane attack of the Sudbury Wolves.

“We can’t let them slow us down,” said MacKenzie. “They’re a bigger team that will try and slow you down. We’re a fast hockey team and when we’re going north / south, we’re a tough team to beat. We turned down a lot of grade “A” chances tonight, tried to get too fancy and not shoot the puck.”

For as much as David Goyette understands that he and linemates Quentin Musty and Dalibor Dvorsky are sure to be dealing with increasingly less time and space as the regular season draws to a close, the native of Hawkesbury also believes they have the ability to counter-attack.

“We’re skilled enough to create room for each other,” said Goyette. “They (Dvorsky and Musty) are obviously two really skilled players.”

Players who hope to be playoff ready by the end of the month.

“It’s going to be good for us to play those teams that we might see in the playoffs, to get a feel for them,” he said. “Then we just tweak a few things in our system, a couple of adjustments and go from there on hopefully a long run here.”

Northern Hockey Academy