Story by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo courtesy of @pictureboymedia
They were crisp and opportunistic, dangerous in the offensive zone and dominant in the face-off circle.
That combination by the Soo Greyhounds proved too much for the Guelph Storm on Friday.
The Hounds got goals from four different players, while welcoming captain Ryan O’Rourke back to the lineup, in a 4-2 victory over the Storm before 2,814 at Sleeman Centre.
The victory sends the Hounds into Owen Sound on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) with a chance to sweep a three-games-in-three-days road trip.
“That was our first convincing win of the year,” said Soo head coach John Dean, whose team never appeared to be in trouble, while improving to 3-1-0-0 and dropping the Storm to 1-2-1-0. “For the most part, we controlled and managed the puck really well.”
“We started off really well. That’s something we hadn’t done in the two previous games,” said overage defenceman Rob Calisti, who notched his second goal of the season. “We got on them early.”
Leading 2-1 late in the second period, a Guelph miscue led to what proved to be the game-winning tally.
Storm netminder Jacob Oster stopped the puck behind his net, presumably for it to be played by a Guelph defenceman. But miscommunication allowed the Soo’s Bryce McConnell-Barker to swoop in, grab the puck and score on the wrap-around at the 15:12 mark.
Hounds centre Rory Kerins dumped the puck in and “their D weren’t communicating,” said McConnell-Barker, taken fourth overall in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League draft.
Asked if he knew right away he was going to try a wrap-around, McConnell-Barker said: “Oh yeah. I knew that’s what I was doing. It was probably the only way I was going to score. It was a good momentum goal.”
“Definitely big,” O’Rourke said of the scoring play which gave his team a 3-1 lead. “You could say it was the turning point. It kind of shifted momentum.”
O’Rourke, returning from a two-game, league-imposed suspension for a check to the head, was rock solid on the Soo blue-line.
“Awesome to be back,” he said. “It was a long two games for me. I thought we played connected tonight. We just trusted each other and competed towards the same goal.”
Cole MacKay, with a quick release from the right face-off circle, beat Oster high to the blocker side to make it 4-1 at 6:36 of the final period.
MacKay and Tye Kartye share the club’s goal-scoring lead with three each.
With the Greyhounds about to be penalized, Guelph’s Luka Profaca capped the scoring late in regulation.
Early in the second period, Danny Zhilkin, on the power play, beat Hounds rookie Charlie Schenkel for the other Guelph goal.
On a night when the Soo held a 31-22 edge in shots, Zhilkin’s attempt deflected off of a Greyhounds defender and slid through the five-hole.
That made it 2-1, setting the stage for McConnell-Barker’s second goal in an many nights.
Asked about MacKay’s well-placed rocket, and the high-end talent he has to work with, Dean lauded his charges.
“I’m gifted with a lot of skilled players,” he began. “And this season, it really seems as if our skill wants to compete hard as well. When you’re competing and you can shoot the puck the way these guys do, good things are bound to happen.”
Calisti, on the power play, and rookie Marco Mignosa, with his first OHL goal, scored 3:17 apart late in the opening period to send the Hounds into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead.
The goal with the man advantage was the club’s sixth in four games.
Calisti, deadly with the man advantage during the 2019-2020 campaign, said this season’s power play “can be really good. We have a lot of weapons on both units. Puck movement is a key. We have a job to do and everyone knows what their role is.”
Dean pointed out how, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Schenkel has gone a long time between 60-minute appearances.
“I thought he was pretty impressive,” the coach said of the first-year goalie. “He’s worked exceptionally hard.”
The Soo won 35 of 60 face-offs with Kerins doing a lot of the heavy lifting. The veteran centre won 15 of the 24 draws he took.
Dean also spoke of how he was excited to see the Hounds get better as the game went on.
“We played most of the third period in their end,” he added. “We made mistakes. But our D-zone coverage got progressively better. You could see we had a mind set on the ice and we played with an identity.”