Couple of mistakes spoil pretty good effort for Wolves

Brad Chenier of the Sudbury Wolves and Mississauga Steelheads defenceman Duncan Penman collide into Steelheads goalie Kai Edmonds during Sunday afternoon OHL action, from the Sudbury Community Arena. Steelheads defeated the Wolves 3-1. Gino Donato/For The Sudbury Star

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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, 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 conjured 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 a minor penalty assessed when he closed the hand on the puck in a goal-mouth scramble, the Steelheads broke the ice. A nifty backhand pass from behind the net from Max Dodig allowed affiliate callup Rylan Bowers to register his very first OHL goal in his very first game, slamming it home short side past Christian Purboo.

For the next 40 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 centre of the second turning point.   

After Owen Gilhula drew the additional minor in a skirmish 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.

Calvin Martin and Ty Collins drew 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.

Liam Ross of the Sudbury Wolves makes a drive for the net while being pursued by Duncan Penman of the Mississauga Steelheads during Sunday afternoon OHL action, from the Sudbury Community Arena. Steelheads defeated the Wolves 3-1. Gino Donato/For The Sudbury Star

“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 regroup and get ready for London on Friday.”

Acquired largely to add another physical dimension, with increased tenacity, to the Sudbury forward group, 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 to 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 took 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 general manager 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, 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, to be precise), 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 matchups with the London Knights on Jan. 17 and the Sarnia Sting on Jan 18, making one additional jaunt on Jan. 23 to North Bay, before playing host to the Battalion the next evening in Sudbury.

Brad Chenier of the Sudbury Wolves battles for position with Mississauga Steelheads winger Nicholas Canade in front of Steelheads goalie Kai Edmonds during Sunday afternoon OHL action, from the Sudbury Community Arena. Steelheads defeated the Wolves 3-1. Gino Donato/For The Sudbury Star