By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads lost in dramatic fashion in their first home game of the 2022-23 season, falling 6-2 to the Sudbury Wolves at Paramount Fine Foods Centre. Despite a 43-23 shot count in their favour, the Steelheads found themselves desperately behind the Wolves when it came to taking advantage of their opportunities.
Lopsided as the score might have been, both teams can find a few things to look back on as indicators, good and bad, of how their season might go.
Joe Ranger makes Steelheads regret offseason trade in return to Mississauga
Despite his team notching six goals, it would not be too much of a stretch to say Wolves goaltender Joe Ranger was the star of the show in his return to Paramount Fine Foods Centre on Sunday.
Ranger made 41 saves on 43 shots in the game, keeping everything but a pair of powerplay tallies in front of him. Ranger had no chance on Charlie Callaghan’s goal thanks to two Steelheads taking away his sight and little more of one on the second goal, which came in the form of a strange deflection of a Chas Sharpe point shot.
The 20-year-old Ranger played for the Steelheads for three years. He appeared in a career-high 29 regular season games last season, posting a 16-9-1 record. Ranger will likely continue to increase his role and become the Wolves’ go-to goalie this year, though 2022 U18 draft pick Nate Krawchuk will undoubtedly see some action.
Nevertheless, though Ranger’s strike back at his old team may start some conversations about the offseason move, it is far too soon to put anything on the Steelheads’ new goaltender, Ryerson Leenders. The 6-2 score was not representative of the play of the rookie, who made some impressive saves in his first OHL game and could only really have hoped to save one or two of the Wolves’ goals. Leenders will likely get plenty of opportunities as the season moves on, unless fellow newbie Alessio Beglieri really steals the crease.
Shots are great, goals are better
The Steelheads managed to tally 43 shots on Ranger and actually managed to control the play for significant portions of the game, but the real difference between them and the Wolves Sunday afternoon was the ability to take advantage of opportunities, especially at five-on-five.
The Steelheads’ two goals were both on the powerplay, while the Wolves managed to pot five at five-on-five and another one shorthanded. The shorthanded goal, which resulted from a two-on-one for Kocha Delic and David Goyette, was the deal-breaker in the game, giving the Wolves a two-goal lead and some momentum heading into the third.
Score effects and having eight powerplays made a big difference in the shot count, which also featured many shots from outside the slot. The Wolves threw their sticks and bodies at a lot of pucks all game long and when the Steelheads did break through, they were not able to take advantage of loose pucks. Different outcomes on a few fanned shots and missed passes, especially in the first period, could have made a massive difference in the direction of the game.
Giving up six goals, many of which came on grade-A scoring chances or were created out of turnovers, may also be a concern for the Steelheads. Quality over quantity may become a talking point if games like this one become a regular occurrence.
Wolves’ Delic-Goyette duo a force to be reckoned with
Kocha Delic was the first star of the game for the Wolves, providing a game-high three points in the form of two assists and a shorthanded (and eventually game-winning) goal. Delic was very noticeable on the penalty kill in particular, keeping the Steelheads’ powerplay breakout at bay with strong forechecking, even with his team up by a lot in the third period.
Playing alongside Delic for most of the game was David Goyette. The Seattle Kraken prospect added a highlight-reel goal and an assist of his own, bringing his total for the first two games of the season to four points.
The two Wolves standouts, along with Evan Konyen, formed an absolute force of a first line against the Steelheads, trapping them in their own zone on a few occasions and taking advantage of opportunities. The trio finished with 7 points and looked like they could have done even more if they had more time at even strength.
Steelheads rookies make their mark
One bright spot for the Steelheads comes in the play of their rookies to start the season.
While Charlie Callaghan earned the second star of the game for his efforts, the play of another defenceman was almost equally noteworthy. Rookie Parker von Richter, a Mississauga native, looked poised at both ends of the ice, notching an assist on the powerplay to go along with some solid stick work and blocked shots in his own zone. His play may have been noticed, as Von Richter seemed to get more opportunities as the game went on.
At other end of the ice, the rookie trio of Mason Zebeski, Valdemar Hull and Lucas Karmiris was similarly impressive. Zebeski was noticeable as a playmaker and physical presence alongside his former minor hockey teammate Luke Misa and second-year Steelhead Kai Schwindt. While Hull and Karmiris faced limited ice time on the fourth line, they were not to be missed. Karmiris in particular brought noticeable speed and flashy hands to a rather atypical bottom line.
The highlight of the game for the Steelheads rookies came with the team’s second goal. Coach James Richmond put the trio out on the powerplay alongside two defencemen in von Richter and Sharpe, and they converted almost immediately. Hull grabbed an assist on the play.
It is early yet to judge what role each of the Steelheads rookies will play this season, but it is a fair bet to think the team will be hoping to see them soar even higher than they have so far.
Uberti and Veccia made their presence felt
While one Steelheads trade may not have looked too amazing thanks to this game, another did look alright: the acquisition of Jake Uberti from Niagara before last year’s trade deadline.
Uberti had an impressive start to the 2022-23 season with three assists in Thursday’s season opener, but he added another strong performance Sunday. For much of the first two periods of play, Uberti looked like one of the strongest skaters on the ice, creating a number of chances starting from the neutral zone.
Along with an assist, the Steelheads’ second line center tallied a game-high seven shots and was 12-for-19 at the faceoff dot. The only concern for Richmond and company might be that Uberti took both of the Steelheads’ two penalties in the game.
A similarly noticeable presence up front for the Steelheads was Zander Veccia, who was given an opportunity to play on the first line with Luca Del Bel Belluz and James Hardie. Veccia looked strong in upgraded minutes, using his mix of speed and size to create opportunities that kept Ranger on his toes. Finishing with a -3 rating, however, may not have been the best thing for his chances of sticking on the top line, especially if Owen Beck makes his way back down from the Montreal Canadiens and players start to move around.
The Steelheads’ strong lineup has been celebrated all preseason long, so it will be interesting to see if Richmond makes any more line changes as the roster fills out with Beck and captain Ethan Del Mastro, who was sent down by the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday.
Next up for the Steelheads is another chance for their first home win of the season as they take on the Erie Otters on Friday.