Despite the miscues and missteps that are part and parcel of any exhibition contest, the skill that powered the Sudbury Wolves to a win in their pre-season opener was apparent again on Friday night, as the Pack took another decision, this time against the Peterborough Petes, by a 5-2 score.
Ethan Larmand, David Goyette, Evan Konyen, Nick DeGrazia and Ryan Smith had goals and Mitchell Weeks made 24 saves as the Wolves played their first game within the confines of Sudbury Community Arena since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020.
Justin DeZoete and Artem Guryev replied with goals for the Petes, while Michael Simpson made 25 saves for the visitors.
“It felt pretty good, especially because we got the win – that always helps,” said freshman forward Konyen, who finished Friday’s affair with a pair of points. “We faced a little adversity in the second, but being able to score two goals in the third and get the win, it shows we don’t get off our game easily.”
Peterborough opened with the game’s first two shots and Carson Whitson even hit a post behind Weeks as the Wolves shook off any early game jitters, but the Pack sent the next 12 toward Petes netminder Simpson, coming close to opening the scoring on a low drive by Larmand that just missed the far side, then a short breakaway by Goyette.
DeGrazia found Larmand with a long feed a few moments later, and the Midland, Ont. product made no mistake this time, burying a low shot at 15:42.
Goyette also benefitted from a well-placed pass, this time from Evan Konyen, that allowed the rookie from Hawkesbury, Ont. to redirect a puck into the empty cage for a two-goal cushion at 17:30. Kocha Delic had the other assist.
Peterborough nearly capitalized on a series of Wolves miscues as the teams played four a side early in the second, but the action suddenly shifted down the ice and ended when Konyen slipped in alone and the Mars, Penn. native slipped a puck between Simpson’s pads at 1:07. Delic and Nolan Collins had assists.
A fourth-round pick in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection, Konyen likes the chemistry he and his teammates started building back in rookie camp at the end of August – both on and off the ice.
“In two games, we have put up a lot of goals, so that just shows things are clicking and we’re getting the job done on the score sheet,” Konyen said.
“I’m having lots of fun. This is a great group of guys to be around.”
Weeks looked calm and composed while turning aside most of the Petes’ scoring opportunities through the first 35 minutes or so, but an apparent miscommunication with his defencemen while playing the puck resulted in a turnover and a goal by DeZoete at 14:33.
The Petes got another one back just 33 seconds later, on a long shot by Guryev that may have hit something on the way through and ended up in Weeks’ net.
Buoyed by a string of power-play opportunities, Peterborough outshot Sudbury 17-10 in the frame, but trailed 22-19 in the overall count after 40 minutes.
DeGrazia played the part of finisher at 12:01 of the third, taking a centring feed from Andre Anania and snapping a shot into the corner over Simpson’s catching hand to make it 4-2.
DeGrazia was also in on the fifth Sudbury marker, as the Thunder Bay product drew Simpson across his crease before feeding a trailing Smith at 18:52.
“We were a little uptight and the ice was a little challenging,” Wolves head coach Craig Duncanson said of his team’s start. “The puck bounced a bit, but they found a way to stay with it and to found a win.
“They’re all extremely skilled, fast kids, and they’re all young players, and they just responded. They did what they did best and they came back. The veteran guys, Larmand, Smith and DeGrazia took charge a few shifts, held them in their zone and got the momentum back on our side and the rest of the guys followed. They came down the wing and Liam Ross didn’t let them into the middle once or twice or any time, and it kind of settled things down for us.”
Despite their lack of experience at the major-junior level, Duncanson thought players such as Larmand, DeGrazia and Smith looked every bit the part of veterans on Friday.
“They played with composure,” Sudbury’s coach said. “Yes, they were cheated out of a year and a half of experience, but they’re older guys and they know the game and I thought they did a real good job at settling things down.”
The Wolves were without Jack Thompson, Chase Stillman and Landon McCallum, all attending NHL rookie camps, as well as Quentin Musty, Gio Biondi, Will Bishop and Alex Assadourian.
Homegrown forward Cole Crowder, who attended training camp as a free agent, dressed for his first exhibition game on Friday. Samuel Vachon, Sudbury’s second-round pick in the 2019 U18 draft and a player who was missing from this year’s camp, also made his pre-season debut.
The Wolves resume their pre-season schedule with a visit by the Owen Sound Attack on Sept. 24 at 7:05 p.m.
“We’re going to continue working on what we have been working on,” Duncanson said. “We have to get a little tighter in our own end and we have to communicate a little better. I find we’re a little quiet on the ice so far and communication is a skill in this game. We have to get a little more chatter out there.”