A handled puck here, an extra move there, and a few key saves at the other end of the rink were all that was needed to snap an abbreviated Sudbury Wolves' win streak (two games, to be precise), the local juniors dropping a 3-1 decision to the Mississauga Steelheads on Sunday afternoon in Sudbury.
The visitors opened the scoring with a first period power play goal, doubled their advantage in the third with another five on four marker, and sealed the win with an empty net goal, with Matej Pekar spoiling the shutout bid of Kai Edmonds with just 11 seconds to play.
In a game that featured far more of a playoff like atmosphere than the offensive free for all the Wolves enjoyed against an overmatched North Bay Battalion side Friday night, the nickel city lads found themselves battling an opponent that would conjure up the type of tight-checking effort that has seen Mississauga teams give fits to Sudbury adversaries for the better part of the past two decades.
One could almost sense, right from the start, that little details, here and there, would become make or break differences in this contest of divisional foes.
With Sudbury defenceman Kalle Loponen down to the final few seconds of an avoidable minor penalty assessed when he closed the hand on the puck in a goal mouth scramble, the Steelheads would break the ice. A nifty wrap-around pass from behind the net from Max Dodig allowed affiliated call-up Rylan Bowers to register his very first OHL goal in his very first OHL game, slamming it home short-side past Christian Purboo.
For the next forty minutes or so, the teams traded the occasional chance, with both Purboo and Edmonds more than equal to the task, the netminders combining to stop 63 of the 66 shots directed their way, with both puck-stoppers coming up big, at times, turning aside pucks that seemed destined to be goals.
Despite the lack of scoring, the contest was an entertaining affair, the teams assessed only a total of three minor penalties through the end of the second period. Yet it was special teams that were again at the center of the second turning point.
After Owen Gilhula drew the additional minor in a squirmish with Mississauga forward Richard Whittaker, Sudbury's David Levin made one ill-timed move too many on the penalty kill, failing to ice the puck, with the Steelheads capitalizing on the change of possession in Wolves' territory.
Calvin Martin and Ty Collins would draw the assists as James Hardie made it a 2-0 game, on the power play, at 6:37 of the third period. From there, it was even more shutdown than usual from the visitors, who capped off their scoring with an empty-net goal from Richard Whittaker with just over two minutes to play in the game.
"We knew they were a hard-working team, right from the get go," said Hanmer native and Wolves' newcomer Bradley Chenier, suiting up for his first game in the new uniform, but very well acquainted with the Steelheads, from his time in North Bay. "We knew we had that coming."
"I thought we had some pretty grade "A" chances. Obviously, they didn't go in, so it's one of those games where you forget about it, you re-group and get ready for London on Friday."
Acquired largely to add another physical dimension, with increased tenacity, to the Sudbury forward lineup, the overage forward displayed just those qualities, making his presence felt several times in this game.
"I think that today, I had a couple of good hits and a couple of good chances," Chenier noted. "I'm going to just play my game, not focus on too many things. I think I'm a very well-rounded player and I try and bring it every night. I'm always trying to be physical, but you have to be smart about it. If he's five feet from the boards, don't go for that big hit."
After playing every single one of his previous 241 OHL games in a North Bay uniform, the product of the Nickel City Sons program acknowledged that he did not see the deadline trade coming. "I was actually pretty surprised," he said. "I was going for the morning skate and got called off."
"It was pretty much right out of the blue."
Not that it would take long, at all, for Chenier to find a silver lining in a move that shipped him from the 9-29-2-0 Battalion to the Central Division leading 21-19-1-0 Wolves. "I am thankful for the opportunity that Rob (Wolves GM Rob Papineau) and Adam (Battalion GM Adam Dennis) have given me," he said.
"We're hoping to go on a long playoff run here, so it's pretty motivating. I had a lot of good friendships on that team (North Bay), but there's just that extra push here because you want to win the division, you want to get that top seed, you want home ice advantage."
Still, it was definitely a little bit different for the well-spoken 20 year old (eight days shy of his 21st birthday), who had grown used to entering and exciting the Sudbury Arena ice surface from the zamboni gateway.
"It is a little weird," said Chenier. "I've played these guys probably 27 times in my career and I knew a lot of the guys, just from playing them that often. It's a small world, for sure."
The Wolves will be on the road next weekend, facing match-ups with the London Knights (Friday, Jan 17th) and the Sarnia Sting (Sat., Jan 18th), making one additional jaunt on Thursday (January 23rd) to North Bay, before playing host to the Battalion the next evening in Sudbury.