At times it wasn't pretty, but three power play goals were enough to allow the visiting Soo Jr Greyhounds to overcome a 2-0 first period deficit, extending their impressive current winning streak to ten games with a 5-3 victory over the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves in Great North Midget League action on Sunday.
Playing their only game of the weekend and facing a Greyhounds crew that had doubled the Sudbury Minor Midget Wolves 4-2 the previous night, the Nickel Caps were opportunistic in building their early advantage, courtesy of goals from defenceman Jimmy Blanchard and "AAA" rookie Rowan Mullin-Santone.
That lead would hold until the latter stages of period number two, with Adam Barone getting the Hounds on the board, with the man advantage, and Calem Mangone pulling his time even, also playing five on four in the final minute of play.
Sudbury would pull out in front, once again in the third, when Pierson Sobush redirected a point shot from Chris Innes past Sault Ste Marie netminder Gavin Disano, before the visitors rallied one last time.
Ethan Esposito would bury both the game-tying and game-winning goals, the first on a breakaway following a great stretch pass from Devin Mauro, the second on the power play, before Mauro iced the contest less than two minutes later, batting a puck out of the air for a little extra insurance.
"I thought we were really good, at times," agreed Greyhounds head coach Jamie Henderson. "It was a chippy affair, as it usually is with Sudbury, so there wasn't a ton of flow to that game. We did outshoot them by a fair bit the first half of the game, but we made it too easy on them."
"(Jake) Marois is a great goalie, we know that, and we needed to get more traffic in front of him. They got one in the third and we came right back, so I really credit our guys for sticking with it."
With the win, the Sault improves to 21-4-2-0 (44 pts), three points better than the Kapuskasing Flyers (20-6-1-0), while the Nickel Capital Wolves remain in fourth place with 32 points (15-8-2-0), just one back of the North Bay Major Midget Trappers (16-10-0-1).
With no less than eight first year midgets (2004 birthdates) in their lineup, the Jr Greyhounds were thankful for the return of both Ethan Esposito (back from southern Ontario) and Stephen Pszeniczny (started the season with the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL) to the team in the early stages of the 2019-2020 campaign.
"We knew it would take some time, that we would have to adjust to the physicality of the league," said Henderson. "Hopefully, out best hockey is still ahead of us."
February is certainly the busiest month of the year for the Great North Midget teams, with the Greyhounds set to play 10 more games before the GNML playdown tournament in Kapuskasing in early March, while Sudbury still has twelve games on their calendar.
According to Henderson, the mindset for pretty much every staff in the league is somewhat identical. "Every coach, at this time of year, is talking defence," he said. "We definitely want to tighten up, and I thought we did a really good job of that today."
Michael Chaffay paced the Greyhounds attack on Saturday with a two goal effort, with Dylan Szabo and Ty Zachary netting one goal apiece, while Atley Gringorten and Brayden Lafrance answered for the Sudbury Minor Midgets.
With the North Bay majors limited to just ten skaters due to injuries, the minor Trappers were not about to show them much pity. The teams traded off 5-4 wins over the weekend, with the 2004's drawing first blood on Saturday, receiving goals from Nico Laforge (2), Ben Harris, Dominic Godin and Jake Fullerton, just enough to offset counters from Cameron Pariseau (2), Alex Little and Nathaniel Lalonde.
A hat-trick from Lalonde would turn the tables on Sunday, the veteran forward joined on the scoresheet by Will Rivet, with a pair, while Chase Lefebvre, Dallas Landriault, Dominic Godin and Todd Violette kept things close for the Minor Midget Trappers.
"We've had multiple injuries since the start of the season," noted Major Midget Trappers head coach Billie McMillan, during a recent visit to Sudbury. "We're working through it. As a coach, I'm kind of hoping that all of my injuries happen in the first half and that we'll be healthy in the second half, when it really counts."
Kapuskasing picked up a pair of wins on the weekend, helping the Flyers remain within striking distance of the Greyhounds. On Friday, the northernmost GNML squad vanquished the much-improved New Liskeard Cubs by a score of 7-5, with six different players lighting the lamp, including Ryan Maynard (2), Dawson Linklater, Brendan Aubertin, Mathieu Comeau, Justin Alary and Kristopher Beauchamp.
Jackson Buffam enjoyed a two-goal evening of his own, in a losing cause, with Benjamin White, Andrew Rowell and Zachary Lajoie finding the back of the net once each for New Liskeard.
Off to Timmins on Sunday, where the Flyers gradually pulled away, up 3-1 after the second and adding three more in a 6-1 triumph over the Majors. Justin Alary and Ryan Maynard topped the scoring parade with two goals each, with singles from Dawson Linklater and Kelsey Ouellet, while Mason Wesley spoiled the Kapuskasing shutout bid, tying the game at one just 17 seconds after Alary opened the scoring in the first period.
The Timmins Majors were coming off a 3-1 win over New Liskeard Saturday at the McIntyre, as Nolan Ring, Sebastien Sutherland and Harry Clark tallied for the winners, with Eric Ethier countering for the Cubs.