‘Relentless’ Hounds too much for Spitfires


by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies

Released from the throes of a five-game losing streak – and a stretch of eight losses in nine starts – the Soo Greyhounds certainly earned the right to breathe deeply on Saturday.

The Hounds turned in a dominant performance – one of their best of the 2022-2023 season – beating the Windsor Spitfires 8-2 before 3,561 at GFL Memorial Gardens.

Sparked by an aggressive forecheck and a dogged approach in all three zones, the Hounds peppered Spits netminder Mathias Onuska, recording a season-high offensive output, on a night when they outshot the powerful Spits 52-35.

That was also a season-high shots total, triggered by a 25-11 advantage in the second period.

“I’m very excited for our guys and they deserved this so much. We were relentless and it’s so much fun to coach a team like that,” said head coach John Dean, whose charges benefitted from a brilliant, two-goal-three-assist performance from Brenden Sirizzotti, and single goals from six others, all part of a complete team effort. “We feel as if we’ve played some decent hockey lately, but haven’t found a way to put pucks in the net.”

The Soo had produced just nine goals in its previous five games.

“We feel unbelievable. We just took down the first-place team and we did it by six goals,” said Sirizzotti, whose team improved to 19-32-9-6 by winning its third-to-last game of the regular season. “It’s an awesome feeling.”

“This is great for us mentally,” added winger Justin Cloutier, whose club plays host to Saginaw on Friday (7:07 p.m.) and Sudbury next Sunday (2:07 p.m.), capping off the franchise’s first season without a playoff berth since the 2011-2012 campaign. “I’m super proud of our guys. Collectively, we wore them down. We hit them every chance we got.”

While talking about how excited he was to see the Hounds execute a game plan for 60 minutes, Dean thought the key lay in his club’s ability to exit its own zone.

“We took care of their 2-1-2 forecheck,” added the coach, whose squad held period leads of 2-1 and 5-1. “We really cut through it like butter, to be honest. And I loved our (1-2-2) forecheck.”

Despite falling to 42-17-4-2, the Spitfires caught a break when London dropped a 4-3 decision in Flint on Saturday. The Knights (43-20-2-0) remain two points back of Windsor in the race for first place in the Western Conference. Both teams have three games remaining, including a home-and-home series next Friday and Saturday.

Against Windsor, the Greyhounds came out of the gate like a sprinter leaving the blocks.

On a beautiful individual effort, Kirill Kudryavtsev went end-to-end before beating Onuska through the five-hole for a power-play goal at 2:23.

Three minutes later, they made it 2-0 after Bryce McConnell-Barker won an offensive-zone face-off and Kalvyn Watson went bar down from the top of the left circle. That was Watson’s 32nd of the season.

After the Spits made it 2-1, the Soo shifted into high gear in the middle frame.

Following a Windsor turnover, Justin Cloutier banged home the rebound of a scoring attempt by Sirizzotti at the 3:05 mark.

Charlie Schenkel responded with key, back-to-back saves, turning aside two attempts by Jacob Maillet in front.

The Soo refused to be denied on its fourth goal. Cloutier hit the post and Christopher Brown’s attempt in front of an empty net was blocked by a Spits defenceman. That set the stage for Sirizzotti to jam the puck in for his 20th goal at 12:41.

Late in the period, after being denied on his second breakaway of the night moments earlier, Owen Allard made sure he’d convert.

While falling to the ice after being impeded by a Spitfires defender, Allard went bar down on the blocker side for his third goal in 12 games.

“I think that was our best period of the season,” Dean said of the middle frame. “A lot of it was our hunger.”

“I’m really proud of this group. I’m proud of our effort and our game tonight,” said McConnell-Barker, who finished with a pair of assists. “This is a huge win, beating Windsor. It’s a big confidence builder leading into next year.”

Leading 5-1 after 40 minutes, Sirizzotti, with his 21ston the power play, Mark Duarte, with goal No. 20, and Daylen Moses, with the second tally of his rookie season on the power play, added third period markers.

Dean called Sirizzotti “an absolute monster.”

Cloutier and Kudryavtsev, who was excellent defensively, finished with a goal and an assist each. Andrew Gibson had a pair of assists.

Jacob Maillet and Rodwin Dionicio were the only Spitfires able to beat Schenkel, who turned in a strong performance.

“It was a frustrating night,” admitted Windsor head coach Marc Savard, whose team was a 3-0 winner in the Sault on Friday night.

Having controlled the Greyhounds in head-to-head play this season, Savard spoke of how “the odds weren’t with us tonight. They capitalized on their chances early, we got behind the eight ball, we had to try to come back all night and we couldn’t do it.”

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