By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads came out victorious in their second home game of the season Friday night, defeating the Erie Otters 3-2 in a shootout.
The first battle between the two teams since February 2020 featured lockdown defence, old-fashioned scraps and an electric overtime.
After the Otters took control early and Liam Gilmartin opened the scoring on the powerplay, the Steelheads would benefit from an uptick in game pace in the second period, getting goals from last year’s top two scorers: Luca Del Bel Belluz and James Hardie. The lead would still not prove enough in regulation, as after long delay for a review, Brett Bressette would to tie the game for the Otters with about twelve minutes to go in the third period.
An overtime filled with breakaways, posts and heroic sprawling goalies would not be enough to find a conclusion, so the two teams headed to the shootout. There, Hardie and Del Bel Belluz scored on the first two Steelheads shots, while goaltender Alessio Beglieri stopped both of the Otters’ first two shots, earning the Steelheads the victory.
Here are some takeaways from what proved to be a great game at Paramount Fine Foods Centre Friday night.
As the game got faster, the Steelheads shone
Mississauga was clearly at a disadvantage in an opening period that featured staunch defending and little in the way of game pace. Neither team created many chances, but the Steelheads’ struggles in transition were reflected in not generating a shot until over halfway through the frame.
Steelheads head coach James Richmond admitted after the game the team did not have a lot of offensive zone time in the first.
“We’ve got to be better off the start,” he said.
The game picked up pace in the second period, thanks in part to physical play, including a fight between Steelheads defenceman Charlie Callaghan and Otters forward Kaleb Smith. The upgraded game speed benefited the Steelheads and their dynamic offence, as they would grab the lead and momentum by finding room in the neutral zone.
The game opened up similarly for much of the third period, but as time wound down, both defences stood stronger, shutting down most offensive zone possession before it started.
This was not the case in overtime, where both teams managed to create a number of chances through two-on-ones and breakaways. The speed and quick puck movement of the Steelheads’ stars appeared to give them a bit more to work with, but both goalies had to stop seemingly surefire chances.
While a game settled in the shootout can feel insignificant, there is something for the Steelheads to take away, as they will likely hope to bring more speed early in games in the future.
Alessio Beglieri stands tall in home debut
The biggest storyline for the Steelheads comes in the play of goaltender Alessio Beglieri, who made 35 saves on 37 shots in his first game between the pipes at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
Beglieri put on quite the performance, showing poise in his positioning and bouncing back effortlessly from a fairly quiet first period and unfortunate first goal. His third period was especially strong, making a few key saves on wide-open Otters chances.
Richmond said it has been fun watching Beglieri, noting he is a pretty “low-key guy.”
Beglieri, meanwhile, said though the transition to the faster and stronger OHL was difficult at first, he feels great on the ice and his game is improving.
Del Mastro and Beck return
Owen Beck made his return to the Steelheads Friday after some time at the Montreal Canadiens’ preseason camp. While Richmond said Beck had not practiced with the team yet, it barely showed. Beck looked as smart and poised as touted since being drafted by the Canadiens, breaking up plays, creating scoring chances off the rush and winning 18 of 28 (64%) faceoffs he took in the game.
Ethan Del Mastro, the Steelheads’ captain, was even more impressive in his first game of the season after attending Chicago Blackhawks camp. The blueliner brought hard-nosed defending but also activated regularly off the rush, appearing especially noticeable in the third period and overtime. Richmond called Del Mastro a “beast.”
“He’s the guy that makes everything go,” Richmond said. “He’s gonna be a horse until we lose him to the world juniors.”
Callaghan a major factor on and off the scoresheet
Another key piece for the Steelheads Friday night was defenceman Charlie Callaghan, whose scoreline of three shots and seven penalty minutes does not do his play justice.
Callaghan was strong at both ends of the ice, regularly shutting down Otters rush attempts and turning picked off passes into chances the other way. Callaghan was also strong offensively, joining the rush on a few occasions and looking like a real threat to make something happen in overtime.
Still, Callaghan’s most noticeable contribution to the game might have been his physical play. The Steelheads’ alternate captain threw a number of hits in the game, including one massive blow near his own blue line that spurred the fight with Smith, who is four inches taller than the five-foot-eight Callaghan.
The fight served to bring the energy of the game up significantly, benefiting the Steelheads and showing Callaghan’s worth in all aspects of the game.
Penalties - the good, the bad and the not-too-ugly
As 34 total penalty minutes makes evident, penalties were a problem for both teams in this game.
Special concern for the Steelheads might come in how those penalties were created. Three of the Steelheads penalties came as stick infractions. A lot of credit goes to the Otters for driving the net hard (especially rookie Malcolm Spence, who was all over the ice) but the Steelheads may be concerned that they found themselves a step behind and reaching so often.
Along with not having many offensive chances, a consequence of too many penalties is missed opportunities for players. Richmond said it was difficult to get the all-rookie fourth line of Mason Zebeski, Valdemar Hull and Lucas Karmiris a lot of minutes in a game with so many penalties, though he thought they did well in the time they got.
Still, there is one bright spot for the Steelheads: they killed off all but the first of the seven penalties they took in the game.
The penalty kill, led primarily by established players like Beck, Del Mastro and Zander Veccia, was strong, keeping a strong Otters powerplay quarterbacked by dynamic defencemen Spencer Sova and Christian Kyrou at bay.
Still, it has been said your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender, and it was for the Steelheads in this game. Beglieri stood his ground and put his lateral movement on display, stopping everything from cross-crease one-timers to deflected shots from the blue line.
Another positive for the Steelheads: for the second straight game, they used their speed, puck protection and ability to get in opponents’ heads to draw some penalties of their own (they drew eight in their home opener against the Sudbury Wolves).
In the end, both teams will likely try to find ways to spend more of the game at five-on-five as the season gets going.