New-look Wolves beat down Battalion

Matej Pekar, right, of the Sudbury Wolves, and Luke Moncada, of the North Bay Battalion, battle for the puck during OHL action at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday January 10, 2020. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

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If Sudbury Wolves fans had a glimpse of what Matej Pekar can do through their TV and computer screens on Thursday, they got an eyeful in person on Friday night.

Making his debut at Sudbury Community Arena alongside Quinton Byfield and David Levin, the recently-acquired winger followed a one-assist outing in Barrie 24 hours earlier with a no fewer than five helpers in a dominant 8-2 win over the North Bay Battalion.

Byfield had two goals and three assists, Chase Stillman two tallies and one helper, and Levin one of each as the Pack improved to 21-18-1-0 in their first game since the OHL trade deadline, which had passed at noon the same day.

Macauley Carson, Isaak Phillips and Adam Samuelsson, with his first OHL goal, also supplied offence for Sudbury, while Mitchell Weeks was superb in goal, making 20 of his 34 saves in the third period.

“It was great,” Pekar said. “The fans were great, my teammates were great, they were trying to help me a lot, so everything is good.”

Arriving in the Nickel City following a trade with the Barrie Colts on Wednesday, Pekar was still getting used to his surroundings on Friday night, and had not yet practised with his new teammates, but hardly looked out of place.

“I just tried to play my game, tried to win it for the team,” Pekar said. “I was trying not to overthink things, just play, basically. I think playing with Q and Lev helped me a lot, off and on the ice, too.”

Brandon Coe and Alex Christopoulos scored and Naughton native Cameron Lamour made 25 saves for the Battalion, who slipped to 9-29-2-0.

Former Sudbury Wolves player Shane Bulitka is presented with a Sudbury Wolves jersey by Wolves owner Dario Zulich at a pregame ceremony at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday January 10, 2020. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Despite the emotions that followed this week’s trades, particularly those that sent veteran forward Shane Bulitka to North Bay in exchange for local product Brad Chenier, and defenceman Peter Stratis to Sarnia, Wolves associate coach Darryl Moxam liked his team’s composure.

“It’s a pretty complete effort from start to finish,” Moxam said. “You get up a little bit in the third and we were able to bring some of the younger forwards and some of the younger D in for some extra ice time and they did a great job, as well, and Weeksy, I thought, looked as sharp as he has looked all year.

“Obviously, yesterday was a pretty tough day. You bring some guys in, but during that, you also lose some quality people. But it has been a great couple of days and we’ll just look forward to getting at it tomorrow, getting the new guys in for their first practice. It feels good right now.”

Having overseen several trades as coaches, Cory Stillman and his staff did their best to help the players refocus for their contests against Barrie, where they won 4-0, and on home ice, and were understandably pleased with the response.

“It’s just getting down here and being with each other,” Moxam said. “Cory had a great talk with the guys on the bus yesterday, explaining that it has happened to all three of us as coaches, we have seen great friends come and go and that’s the nature of the game, quite honestly. It’s that part that might not be the most fun to do every day, but we had to have the guys ready to go. At the drop of the puck last night, we were a little slow to get our legs going, but I thought that from the second period yesterday right through to the end of the game today, we were really starting to click. We just have to focus on the little things right now, because we got a little bit away from it in the third period and we have a tough test on Sunday (against Mississauga). They’re on a little bit of a roll right now and we have to have these guys ready.”

Stillman had just come on the ice in the first period when he found himself on a two-on-one rush with Byfield, after the Wolves blocked a North Bay outlet pass and carried the puck back into the offensive zone.

Byfield showed good patience to draw the Battalion defender into making a move, then slid a pass over to Stillman to tap in his 10th of the season, just 42 seconds into the contest. Pekar also assisted, giving him points in his first two games as a Wolf.

The teams exchanged scoring chances through the midway mark of the period, but Sudbury pulled away on a series of good shifts later in the frame, eventually pushing the shot count to 9-4 in the home team’s favour.

Starting the second with a two-man advantage, the Wolves converted quickly, with a hard wrister by Byfield, just 20 seconds in, unleashing a torrent of offence in the middle stanza. Levin and Pekar assisted on Byfield’s team-leading 24th goal of the season.

Coe replied for North Bay at 4:46, tapping in a pass from Liam Arnsby on a two on one, but the Wolves potted four more before the horn.

First it was Byfield, scoring his 25th of the year with another hard wrist shot, this time on a three-on-one rush, at 7:04. Pekar had the lone assist.

Having thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Colts, Pekar was nonetheless excited for a chance to make a run in Sudbury, and welcomed news of the trade on Wednesday.

“I never got traded for like this, in the middle of a season, so obviously, it was mixed emotions, but that’s hockey,” Pekar said. “I was more excited, like 80, 85 per cent excited and 15 per cent I just didn’t know what to expect, but it’s just hockey life and I’m really happy to be here in Sudbury.”

Moxam was happy to have him, too.

“He comes as advertised,” Moxam said. “We know his skill set, he’s a very highly-skilled player, but the biggest thing with him that has impressed us so far is his willingness to compete. He’s a guy who fits great within our system and everything Cory and the rest of us expect from our guys, and he’s hard on pucks, he battles and that’s the kind of player you can win with in the playoffs. If he continues to play like that, he’s going to be a great addition to our club.”

Quinton Byfield, left, of the Sudbury Wolves, and Mitchell Russell, of the North Bay Battalion, chase down the puck during OHL action at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday January 10, 2020. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

With Chenier set to debut on Sunday, after serving a suspension, and the likes of Nolan Hutcheson and Kosta Manikis returning from illness, Sudbury’s coaches will have plenty of options, and potential goal-scoring threats, in the second half of the season.

“Earlier in the year, when Levy’s line was going and he wasn’t with Q, it was like pick your poison, but now, we’re going to have that nine, 10 players deep,” Moxam said. “That’s going to be a hard thing for other teams to manage come playoff time. It’s like playing against Ottawa last year. You look at the Peterboroughs and the Oshawas and teams like that, they’re three or four lines deep and it’s hard to get good matchups, especially on the road, with teams so deep, and that’s the option we have now. Rob (Papineau, Sudbury’s general manager) has given us the opportunity to add quite a bit of depth to our front end and right now, it’s working, but we can’t take our foot off the gas.”

Stillman scored a beauty at 8:28, taking a pass from Blake Murray after his linemate smartly picked off a clearing attempt, then putting the moves on Lamour for his 11th of the current campaign.

Levin, who had come close on several chances already, made no mistake on a two-on-one feed from Pekar for his 18th of the season at 18:03.

Big blueliner Samuelsson, noticeably more physical in recent weeks, made an impact on the score sheet, too, getting his first OHL goal with a point shot that hit a player’s helmet and went in at 18:28. The play was waved off initially, perhaps on what the referee believed it was a high stick, but it was ruled a good goal after a review. Owen Gilhula and Byfield had the assists.

Impressed by Samuelsson’s adjustment to the league, Moxam was glad to see him rewarded with a goal.

“What better way to score your first one than off somebody’s forehead?” Moxam said with a smile. “The guys were giving it to him a bit, but you know what, Sammy has been great. He has come back from the Christmas break and he has done everything we have asked of him. He’s such a big body on the ice, but I think he has found some confidence in himself. He’s starting to play physical and tough and when you have a body that big, I don’t want to use the word intimidate, but quiet honestly, he does intimidate guys when he plays that hard.”

Shots after two periods were 28-15 for Sudbury.

Carson had only just been involved in a high-impact collision in the offensive-zone when he took a centring feed from Stillman and redirected it between Lamour’s pads for his 13th of the season at 8:30 of the third. Liam Ross also had an assist.

Weeks was sharp in the final frame, making several good saves on a long North Bay five on three, but couldn’t stop Christopoulos when the Battalion winger was left open in front and lifted a shot over his shoulder at 14:07.

The Wolves answered one more time, however, with Phillips’ marker, a goal that should easily be fodder for the weekly highlight reel.

Byfield fed Pekar, who went behind the back for Byfield, who then went cross-crease to Phillips, who tapped home his sixth of the season at 16:05.

Determined to find positives in their defeat, the Battalion peppered Weeks with shots in the late going, but Sudbury’s first-year goalie stood tall to finish one of his best performances an OHLer.

The Wolves host the Mississauga Steelheads on Sunday to wrap up the weekend, with puck drop scheduled for 2 p.m.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

Isaak Phillips, right, of the Sudbury Wolves, attempts to jam the puck past Cameron Lamour, of the North Bay Battalion, during OHL action at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday January 10, 2020. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

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