Wolves goalie records shutout in return from world juniors
Nearly a week after Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen showed hockey fans around the world what Sudbury Wolves faithful have witnessed all season, the goaltender made a triumphant return to the Nickel City on Friday night.
Luukkonen made 19 saves in a 3-0 shutout of the Mississauga Steelheads, the Pack’s second-straight victory after snapping a seven-game losing streak the night before.
“It was really nice,” said Luukkonen, during a quick break between post-game autographs. “It was great to win with the boys.”
Adam Ruzicka, with his first goal and second point since arriving in a trade-deadline deal with Sarnia, opened the scoring for Sudbury, before Emmett Serensits and Darian Pilon, with an empty-netter, rounded things off as the Wolves improved to 23-14-2-1 this OHL season.
“It’s an exciting moment,” said Ruzicka, a 19-year-old centreman from Bratislava, Slovakia and a Calgary Flames prospect. “The boys made me feel like I’m home and that gets me going. It’s a great start for me and, hopefully, I can keep things going.”
Luukkonen, who was greeted warmly by fans following his gold-medal win with Team Finland at the recent IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, was the focus of a pre-game ceremony that included a jumbotron video, a gift from team owner Dario Zulich and even a rendition of the Finnish national anthem by the Sudbury Finnish Male Choir.
Usually a cool customer on and off the ice, Luukkonen was visibly emotional as he waved to fans during a standing ovation.
“It was just awesome,” Luukkonen said with a smile. “I had never seen such a thing, so I just have to say thank you to the fans. It was a special moment for me.”
Sudbury’s goalie had an easy time of it in the opening period Friday, as the Wolves outshot their rivals 11-4 and enjoyed the majority of offensive-zone time and a handful of quality chances, but Mississauga tender Jacob Ingham denied them each time.
Luukkonen was much busier in the second as it was the Wolves who were outshot 10-4, but the big Finn was in gold-medal form as he made two big stops on breakaways, the second a sprawling pad save on Keean Washkurak that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
Ruzicka, also a world junior participant with Team Slovakia, repaid his new netminder with the game’s opening goal at 10:22 of the middle period.
Skating into the Mississauga zone on a two on one, Ruzicka elected to shoot and the puck trickled through Ingham’s pads and over the goal line. Owen Gilhula and Jack Thompson assisted on Ruzicka’s 12th goal of the season.
After a whirlwind week that included a trade on Wednesday and a game in Barrie on Thursday, during which he assisted on the winning goal, Ruzicka was happy to pot his first in a Wolves uniform and embark on the post-deadline portion of the schedule.
“My flight got cancelled one day and then I had to travel the day I played the game, so it was a little bit stressful,” Ruzicka said. “But I jumped right in the game and we won, we got the two points, which was huge.
“I just want to make a playoff run. That’s why I’m here and that’s what I want to help the team to do.”
Sudbury’s penalty kill had an excellent effort on back-to-back opportunities by Mississauga’s eighth-ranked power play, keeping the home side in front heading into the third.
The early part of the final frame looked much like the first – the Wolves winning puck battles and getting opportunities, but unable to bury one, before Serensits slapped a one-timer from the point into the back of Ingham’s goal at 8:53. Macauley Carson won a faceoff to set up Serensits’ second of the season.
Former Wolf Alan Lyszczarczyk looked to have spoiled Luukkonen’s shutout big with a low shot to the blocker side, but the goal was called back on an offside.
With Ingham on the bench for an extra attacker, Pilon iced the game with an empty-netter at 18:38.
Sudbury outshot Mississauga 16-5 in the third period and 31-19 overall.
The Wolves return to action Sunday, when the Central Division-leading Niagara IceDogs visit for a 3:05 p.m. opening faceoff.