By Andy Veilleux
The general consensus among reporters and those close with the Sudbury Wolves is that the team will be better next season, granted a few “if’s” get answered.
The biggest “if” for the team starts between the pipes.
Veteran goaltender Alain Valiquette will not return to the team, as this was his over-age year. The void filled by his departure is a sizable one.
The team has several goaltenders signed, but none should be considered starting goalies in the OHL. Jacob Riley has to be the leading candidate among the returning goalies, having played a total of 31 games last season split between the Wolves and Brampton Battalion. However, his .885 save percentage and 3.52 goals against average are nothing to write home about.
That brings us to the new addition to the Wolves, goalkeeper Johan Mattsson. The Sweden native, who is 19, was selected by the Wolves in this summer’s 2011 CHL Import Draft. Mattsson stands large in the pipes at 6’3 and 200 pounds, and also has some pedigree as a goaltender.
In 26 games in the SuperElit (Sweden’s U-20 league), Mattsson put up a GAA of 2.62 and a .930 save percentage. Going by the numbers, Mattsson has the ability to be a top goaltender in the OHL. He is a draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, and is expected to play for Sweden at the World Juniors this season.
While he is untested in the OHL, it is likely he will be able to handle the starting goaltending job for the Wolves.
Wolves captain Marcus Foligno is expected to play professionally this season, most likely for the Buffalo Sabres’ AHL farm team. The Wolves will miss his offensive contribution, and the rough and tumble playing style he brought. The Wolves will also be without over-aged forwards Eric O’Dell and Mike Lomas.
The team is hoping Josh McFadden will return to the fold as an over-aged player. His 72 points as a defenseman was second on the team, and he is a big reason the Wolves had such an explosive power play last season.
While the Wolves may be losing offensive players, they have also gained a few. Headlining the list of players expected to chip in offensively is CHL Import player Jiri Sekac. The large Czech winger stands at 6’3, and finished in the top 25 in scoring in the USHL last season with 45 points. Sekac is expected to play for the Czech national team at the World Juniors this year. It will be interesting to see what sort of impact he will have in the OHL. The year he spent in the USHL should go a long way in making him familiar with the North American style of hockey.
The Wolves will be seeking internal help for their offense as well. Josh Leivo is expected to take a major step forward this season. Leivo was unstoppable in the latter part of the season, and the playoffs, with returning linemates Mike Sgarbossa and Andrey Kuchin. Leivo was second in playoff scoring for the Wolves with 6 goals and 13 points in 8 playoff games.
Kristoff Kontos registered 32 points for the team last season, and will be relied on to contribute more this season. Mathew Campagna showed great promise as a rookie with 25 points, and 5 points in 8 playoff games. He will be representing Canada at the U-18 Hockey Championships this summer, which should be great for his development.
Defenseman Frank Corrado will be expected to increase his production after a successful sophomore season in which he tallied 30 points.
If some of the “ifs” become a reality, the Wolves should be a much-improved team over last year’s version. However, be sure to check your expectations at the door, as anything can happen in junior hockey.