By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads came out firing in their first game with a transformed roster, defeating the Sudbury Wolves 7-2 Sunday afternoon at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
The Steelheads looked very different Sunday than they had a week ago, with Owen Beck, Ethan Del Mastro and Luca Del Bel Belluz playing elsewhere and a variety of new players donning the blue and white. Nevertheless, they found chemistry and offensive firepower in spades, giving fans much to look forward to for the rest of the season.
Here are some takeaways from an exciting afternoon in Mississauga.
New Steelheads make their presence felt
Angus MacDonell scored his first goal as a Steelhead, putting home a shorthanded tally to open the scoring on Sunday. The goal also featured Adam Zidlicky, who brings his total in two games with the trout to three points.
Zidlicky, who scored twice in his Steelheads debut on Friday, was a force all over the ice again on Sunday, showing his speed, power and skill on a variety of occasions. He was one of the Steelheads’ best players at generating chances from the neutral zone, showing a propensity for driving wide and using strong edgework to cut to the net.
MacDonell was noticeable in his debut, bringing energy from the opening faceoff as the team’s first line center for much of the game. While he has not scored at the clip of a lot of top-six players in the OHL, his speed and skill are assets James Richmond will be happy to put to use for the rest of the season and beyond.
“He's a smart, smart player,” Steelheads head coach James Richmond said of MacDonell. “Nothing gets by him. He's a tough kid.”
Justin DeZoete hit the scoreboard in his Steelheads debut as well, scoring an almost 180-foot empty netter while shorthanded. The 19-year-old brought physicality as well as an ability to move the puck up the ice, looking like a good fit alongside Zidlicky.
All three players also saw time on the penalty kill, proving their value at all ends of the ice and in various situations.
New kids on the block reignite old connection
The two most anticipated additions for the Steelheads are Porter Martone, acquired as part of the Ethan Del Mastro trade with the Sarnia Sting, and Jack Van Volsen, who the Steelheads got from the Peterborough Petes alongside DeZoete and some picks for Owen Beck.
The line of Van Volsen, Martone and Kai Schwindt had a number of quality scoring chances throughout the game, proving their mix of size and skill to be, as Richmond said, “tough to play against.”
Van Volsen would be the one to find the back of the net, firing a shot off the rush to increase the Steelheads’ lead to 4-1.
“It was obviously a pretty cool feeling to get my first one as a Steelhead,” Van Volsen said.
Van Volsen said he thought his line with Martone and Kai Schwindt saw their strong play pay off with the goal.
“I thought we were playing really well from the start of the game,” Van Volsen said. “We kind of figured one was gonna come our way.”
Richmond was complimentary of his new center, saying the goal reminded him of former Steelhead and current Philadelphia Flyer Owen Tippett.
“When he released that puck, it was off his stick and in the top of the net and we were like 'Woah, Tippett used to do that,’” said Richmond.
The Steelheads coach said Martone and Van Volsen, who were drafted fifth and sixth overall in the 2022 OHL draft, were the kind of players the team wanted in return for their big-name players.
“If we were going to move out our players then there had to be high, high-end players,” Richmond said. “Martone and Van Volsen are high, high end.”
Playing together for the Steelheads meant Van Volsen and Martone brought back a connection formed in minor midget, having played on the same line for a Toronto Jr. Canadiens U16 AAA team that went all the way to the OHL Cup finals. Van Volsen said he was very excited to play with Martone again, as they have chemistry.
“We just jumped right back into it,” Van Volsen said. “We just know where each other are at all times.”
“Watching them play together, it's pretty neat,” Richmond said.
Steelheads' not-so-new kids team up as well
The Steelheads’ second goal came on a two-on-one rush, with Lucas Karmiris re-directing home a cross-crease pass from Parker von Richter.
The two 16-year-olds have been mainstays in the Steelheads lineup, with Mississauga native von Richter making his mark from game one.
“Von Richter has been real, real good all year,” Richmond said. “There really hasn't been a lot of dips in his game.”
Karmiris also had an assist on Brice Cooke’s goal in the third period, sending an aerial pass over the Wolves defencemen and springing Cooke on a breakaway. The versatile young forward has taken definite strides over the course of the season, as Richmond says he has been playing “really well” of late, thanks in part to improved confidence.
“Sometimes when the younger guys come into games too fast, they just throw it away,” Richmond said. “He's making plays now. And he is getting rewarded for it with points.”
Steelheads take control in first period, don’t look back
The game opened in a fashion the Steelheads have to have liked, with a 14-4 shot count in their favour at the end of the first period reflective of a fairly strong start.
Alongside some havoc created in the offensive zone (particularly by the Van Volsen-Martone-Schwindt line), the Steelheads were noticeable in their play without the puck. Their forecheck was strong, forcing the Wolves (and once even their goaltender Kevyn Brassard) to cough up pucks in their own zone, while their hard-working backcheck stopped any counter-attacks before they could start.
Richmond said his team looked good and the first period was probably their best, despite many of the new players having not practiced with the team yet.
“They did a good job of taking what we showed them in video,” he said. “They were having fun together, they were playing as a group and playing really hard.”
Though Richmond said the team’s structure broke down quite a bit as the game went on, the high-flying second and third periods also saw the Steelheads turn the scoreboard, as well as the momentum, in their favour.
Mississauga scored five goals in the third period, all from different scorers. They also finished the game with 47 shots.
Alongside the impressive offensive showing, the Steelheads did get all they could ask for and more from the goaltender. Alessio Beglieri made 28 saves, including two highlight-reel stops in the third period.
First, he made a diving glove save to rob a wide-open Kocha Delic. Later, he showed off his reflexes, making a stop by sticking his pad in the air while on his back. Even if the Steelheads still would have won the game without them, the two stops were game-breaking.
James Hardie ties Steelheads franchise records
With a nifty backhand goal on a breakaway late in the game, James Hardie set himself up for Mississauga Steelheads history.
He tied not just one record, but two, matching Owen Tippett’s record of 114 goals and Michael McLeod’s points record of 207.
Hardie has played 224 games for the Steelheads since joining them in 2018 and will likely play a key role as a leader for the remainder of this season, his last with the team due to eligibility.
Though Hardie will no longer have running-mate Luca Del Bel Belluz to help him, it is possible the Innisfil, Ont., native will beat his personal bests in each of those categories as well this season. His 24 goals in 35 games puts him on pace to surpass his previous high of 41 and his 45 points puts him on pace for about 87, above his carer-high 77 from last season.
The Steelheads will get another look at their revamped team at home on Jan. 13 against the Niagara IceDogs.
*Note: An edit was made to this article, as it originally said Hardie set new records, when he tied the old ones.