Wolves hope to learn from losses in pre-season

Chase Stillman (16) of the Sudbury Wolves faces off with Alex Johnston (15) of the Soo Greyhounds during OHL pre-season action at Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

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Left with no choice but to shrug off a couple of exhibition stinkers to open the pre-season, Sudbury Wolves rookie Chase Stillman managed to find a bit of a silver lining.
The 16-year-old forward calmly explained that Saturday’s 7-2 loss at home against the Soo Greyhounds and Sunday afternoon’s 8-2 defeat at the hands of the Ottawa 67’s at the Kanata Recreation Centre might actually be for the best.
“We had a lot of the young guys in the lineup so I think honestly the best thing for us was maybe even getting blown out both games,” the Wolves 2019 second-rounder suggested.  “It’s just a lot of young guys, they’re learning, and I think it’s going to help us for our development in the future.”
Stillman was easily one of the Wolves best players, never mind rookies, scoring his first goal of the pre-season, along with showing speed, skill and a feisty side.
It was a short turnaround and long bus ride for Sunday’s game. The Wolves also iced a lineup that featured nine rookies and did not include top offensive threats like Quinton Byfield, Blake Murray, David Levin and Nolan Hutcheson.
Despite getting outscored to the tune of 15-4 in less than 24 hours, Stillman figures the lessons learned from a tough weekend will make the team stronger in the end.
“Not a lot of guys here are used to the bus legs,” he said.  “We have a lot of rookies in the lineup, guys that haven’t played junior before.  It’s just going to be an adjustment to play in junior with the long bus rides, but it’s part of the game.”
Sudbury’s bus legs, or maybe even bus brains, were evident in the early going as they got caught a bit flat-footed. The dynamic duo of Marco Rossi and Graeme Clarke, who scored 29 and 23 goals, respectively, for the 67’s last season, made the Wolves pay, staking Ottawa to a 3-0 lead by the 6:30 mark of the opening period.
Rossi hit Clarke with a cross-crease feed that he converted to open the scoring at the 1:53 mark. It was the first shot of the night for David Bowen, who got the start in goal for the Wolves after stopping 11 of 15 in relief of Mitchell Weeks the previous night against the Greyhounds. Bowen had little chance on the goal, which beat him through the five hole as he attempted to sprawl across.
Clarke scored again a little more than two minutes later at 3:58, firing a laser to the top shelf on Bowen’s glove side.  It was a great shot, but probably one Bowen would have liked back.  Clarke then returned the favour to Rossi, sending him streaking into the crease area to make it 3-0 Ottawa on their first three shots on goal.
The Wolves actually outshot the 67’s 13-5 in the opening period and had more sustained pressure, but found themselves down three heading into the first intermission.  Bowen settled down after that and made a few good stops along the way, finishing his half of the game with eight saves on 11 shots and the score still 3-0.
From there it was simply an Ottawa onslaught, with the 67’s peppering sophomore Jonathan Lemaire with 32 shots in the second half of the game and scoring five times en route to the blowout. The final shots were 43-31 for the 67’s.
Veteran defenceman Peter Stratis said his team’s gas tank might have been close to empty after a Wednesday-to-Friday training camp and games on Saturday and Sunday that included six hours of travel.
“Getting up to game shape is always a process,” said Stratis, admitting the club will likely get put through their paces this week.  “Summer skating doesn’t come close to in-season practices and games, so I’m sure it’s going to be a bit of a grind this week.
“But it’s also good for us to kind of step back from the games and we’ll do some team bonding and stuff too, so it should be good.  We had a really close team last year, so we are looking to do the same.”
Despite the lopsided losses, Stratis says everyone realizes it’s the pre-season, and there’s no panic among Wolves players.
“I’m sure Coach Cory (Stillman) feels the same way, he’s been positive back there,” Stratis noted of the Wolves bench boss.  “It’s good that we get that out of the way now and learn from some of our mistakes.  They’re pretty easy fixes, so I’m sure we’ll work on that in practice.”
One of the keys, according to Stratis, is for the older players to maintain that same positive outlook and not create a heavy atmosphere around the team.
“There’s a lot of young guys back there getting into the games so it’s important for our vets not to get frustrated and not to get upset with them,” he said.  “Just be understanding that they’re catching up just like we had to do a few years ago and just be supportive and be positive with them and they should figure it out.”
Rossi’s second goal of the game came at 10:39 of the second period to make it 4-0, less than a minute after Lemaire placed his skates in the crease for Sudbury. Chase Stillman’s goal made it 4-1 at the 11:12 mark, with the lone assist going to Shane Bulitka, but the 67’s scored two more quickly after that to make it a laugher.
Sudbury’s only other goal came in the late stages to make it 8-2, as Macauley Carson picked up a loose puck in front and knifed a backhand up and over JP Tourigny, who went the distance for Ottawa, stopping 29 of 31. It was Carson’s second in as many nights, with assists going to defencemen Andre Anania and Jack Thompson.
The Wolves will have nearly two weeks to practice and possibly trim the roster further. Their next exhibition game is slated for Friday the 13th at McIntyre Arena in Timmins, against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. They’ll wrap up the pre-season on Sept. 15 in Sault Ste. Marie.
Greyhounds 7, Wolves 2
On Saturday at the Sudbury Community Arena, the speedy Greyhounds had 11 power-play opportunities and converted on two of them to complete the blowout. Rookie Mitchell Weeks started between the pipes for Sudbury, kicking out 15 of 18 shots in more than 35 minutes of work before giving way to Bowen. Christian Propp played a full game for the Soo, stopping 25 of 27. Owen Gilhula and Carson scored for Sudbury, while Joe Carroll potted two for the visitors and Sudbury native Brett Jacklin added two assists against his hometown team.