Story by John Langdon
Photo by Andy Veilleux
The Sudbury Wolves were the recipients of some good news last week when the team found out forward Eric O’Dell would be returning to the lineup on Friday night against a tough opponent in the Niagara IceDogs.
After scoring 33 goals for the Wolves in 2009-2010, O’Dell was sidelined for the opening 29 games this season after being told by doctors he was experiencing heart palpitations caused by a hole in his heart.
The additional offensive fire the Wolves were hoping to find on Friday was quickly put out by the IceDogs as O’Dell and his Sudbury teammates were ineffective while going head to head with one of the league’s better teams.
Niagara played a near-perfect road game through a team effort as the IceDogs dominated in all three zones by winning faceoffs and battles along the boards, creating turnovers, and executing strong puck mobility through the neutral zone which led to a 5-1 win.
Myles Doan lead Niagara’s offense with 2 goals, including the eventual game-winner while Mathew Campagna scored the lone goal for Sudbury.
Former Saginaw Spirit defenceman Frank Schumacher registered his first point as a member of the Wolves by assisting on the goal.
The Brighton, Michigan native was acquired by the Wolves on Thursday, along with forwards Michael Sgarbossa and Alex Racino in a five player deal with Saginaw in exchange for center John McFarland and defenceman Ben Chiarot.
Wolves backup goaltender Jacob Riley also got his first start with his new club since being traded from Brampton last month, however, things did not unfold as Riley would have liked, as the young sophomore was pulled midway through the 2nd period after allowing 4 goals on 18 shots.
Wolves Head Coach, Trent Cull came to the defence of his goaltender after the game.
“We’ve got to play better in front of him,” said the Wolves coach.
“You’re not winning many games in this league with one goal,” Cull added.
Niagara opened the scoring at 7:34 of the first period when Alex Friesen beat Riley from in close for his 11th goal of the season. Linemates Andrew Agozzino and David Pacan tallied the assists.
The Wolves managed to hold off a consistent Niagara attack throughout the first 20 minutes and head into the dressing room trailing only 1-0.
The IceDogs offence was unleashed in the 2nd period, however, as Niagara capitalized three times during the middle frame. Doan scored his first of two goals on the night as he jammed the puck home just 1:20 into the second period after receiving a pass from linemate Freddie Hamilton who created the play from behind the Sudbury net.
Minutes later, Andrew Agozzino broke into the Wolves zone on the left wing and fired a hard slap shot from inside the left circle that beat Riley to make it 3-0 IceDogs. The goal was the 19th of the season for the Niagara captain, who leads his team in goals scored.
After Campagna replied for the Wolves at the 11:24 mark, the IceDogs added to their lead when Dougie Hamilton went end-to-end with the puck and pulled the trigger on a laser wrist shot from inside the right circle, putting his team up 4-1 and convincing the Wolves coach to replace Riley with Alain Valiquette.
Hamilton, a 17 year old defenceman from Toronto, is currently ranked #3 in the 2010 NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings for the OHL. “I’m excited about that, but I just focus on my game,” said Hamilton.
Knowing that National Hockey League scouts are watching his game doesn’t seem to intimidate the 6’4 defenceman.
“It adds to your confidence a bit, but it doesn’t really affect the way you play,” added the young prospect.
Along with scoring a goal and finishing the game +2, Hamilton executed all of the necessities which were required. The Wolves had a difficult time penetrating the Niagara defence as they were often victims of Hamilton’s effective stick work and solid play along the boards.
When the Wolves did manage to create scoring opportunities, there was an additional obstacle standing in their way – Niagara goaltender Mark Visentin.
Visentin demonstrated why he was selected to the 2011 Team Canada World Junior Selection Camp to the Wolves and their 3,457 fans in attendance. He stopped 24 of 25 shots and came up big when needed, including a great right pad save on Sudbury’s O’Dell in the 3rd period.
“We have a solid team up front and my defence does a great job in front of me, so that makes things easier for me,” said the netminder.
When asked about the opportunity to represent Canada on the biggest stage in junior hockey, Vistentin expressed his enthusiasm.
“I’m excited about it,” the netminder said. “I’m going to go there and work really hard and just give everything I’ve got.”
Wolves captain, Marcus Foligno will be joining Visentin at the 2011 Team Canada World Junior Selection Camp which will be held from December 12-15 in Toronto.