The Niagara Ice Dogs limped into Sudbury Sunday evening, having been outscored 21-2 in their two most recent outings, dating back to Thursday and Saturday night.
Mired in an eight game losing skid, the visitors seem destined to eventually free-fall past the Kingston Frontenacs, and join the North Bay Battalion as the non playoff teams in the Eastern Conference this year.
The game plan, on Sunday, from a Sudbury perspective, was fairly straight forward: Jump out to a quick start and do not allow the Dogs any reason to believe that this was the night when their fortunes would change.
To that end, the Wolves opened the scoring just over two minutes into the contest.
Even after Niagara pulled to within one by the end of period one, Sudbury countered with a pair of goals before the second period was a minute old.
From there, it was a bit of cruise control, as the local juniors enjoyed one of their more comfortable victories against an opponent not named North Bay, downing Niagara by a final count of 7-3.
On a night where David Levin netted a hat trick, Macauley Carson chipped in with a pair, elite NHL prospect Quinton Byfield missed his second consecutive game nursing a wrist injury, and Sudbury's power play clipped along at a 50% success rate (3/6), it was all about the mindset coming into battle for veteran defenceman and alternate captain Emmett Serensits.
"It's really important to come out hot against teams that are maybe not doing the best right now," stated the 20 year-old native of Oakville, who joined Owen Robinson in drawing assists on the ice-breaking tally from Owen Gilhula mere minutes after the drop of the opening faceoff.
"It kind of gets them out of it early, and we can just build off it," Serensits added. "It really helps us out." And for a while, it did. Carson doubled the Sudbury advantage midway through the frame, burying his 17th goal of the season, matching his total from the 2018-2019 campaign.
Yet lest everything come too easy, the Wolves were reminded that they were still facing an OHL team, albeit one that is clearly in the throes of rebuilding. The Ice Dogs capitalized on a two on one, with Anthony Agostinelli banging the rebound of an Ethan Sims shot past Christian Purboo, cutting the deficit to 2-1 after one, though the Wolves outshot Niagara 16-8 through twenty minutes of play.
Perhaps reminded of the message the coaching staff had preached pre-game, the Central Division leaders wasted little time securing some added cushion in the second, as Levin roofed a perfectly placed backhand over the shoulder of Andrew MacLean, and Owen Robinson connected on the power play, exactly thirty seconds later and just seven seconds after Dogs' defenceman Jackson Doherty was thumbed for cross-checking.
A reply from Agostinelli at 5:07 of the second period became inconsequential when Sudbury struck in rapid-fire fashion, one more time, scoring three times in a span of 1:24 late in the middle stanza.
Carson, on the power-play (17:04), followed by Levin at even strength (17:17) and Levin with the man advantage (18:28) sealed the fate of the Niagara lads, with Jake Uberti drilling home the only goal of the third period to cap off the scoring.
On a night in which the Wolves recorded a full complement of 14 assists on their seven goals, there would be a need to drill home the message that the scoreboard is far more important than the scoresheet. "The phrase that we use is that "it's not point night"," suggested Serensits. "We still have to play as a team."
"Coach repeats it all the time, to make sure that we stay true to ourselves. On "D", we have a job to do, and we just have to do that job, and if the points come, they come."
The overall effort was especially pleasing coming at the tail-end of a three on three that would see the Wolves hit the road for a pair of games prior to returning north for a rare Sunday evening encounter.
"We kind of have our rituals after the games, our routines to help flush that lactic acid out of our legs to make sure we can be the best we can be for a three in three," said Serensits. "It's nice to come through with a game like that."
And in a season where the overall team defence has been prone to some inconsistencies, the Wolves inaugural OHL Under-18 Priority Selection in April of 2017 has proven himself a solid contributor, second only to Liam Ross (+11) in terms of plus/minus rankings on the Sudbury blueline.
"I think through the years, I've just become a little more calm with the puck," said Serensits. "I think that's really important for me. The coaches have said that to me, and it's obviously pretty flattering when they tell me that I'm doing well."
The Wolves, as a team, will look to extend their two game streak of prosperity, at home next Friday night, facing the Sarnia Sting, then heading to St Catharines on Sunday for a rematch with the Ice Dogs, and closing out their long weekend with a Family Day match-up, Monday on the road, opposite the Peterborough Petes.