By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads found themselves on the losing side of the scoreboard for the third time in as many days Sunday afternoon, falling 5-4 against the London Knights.
The Steelheads came into the game having had a bit of a rough stretch, losing 6 of their last 7 games. With the loss, the Steelheads find themselves fourth in the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference with a 12-10-3-0 record.
Here are some takeaways from a barn-burner on Teddy Bear Toss night in Mississauga.
Steelheads slide continues despite strong effort
With Sunday’s loss, the Steelheads finished the weekend with three losses in three games, grabbing zero of a possible six points and continuing a slump that lasted much of November.
Steelheads head coach James Richmond said the months of November and December often represent the “dog days” of the season, so the team needs to “hit the regroup button.”
“We can't wait for somebody else to get us out of it,” he said. “We gotta get ourselves out of it.”
While the team is currently near the middle of the league in goals for with 87, their 96 goals against is near the bottom. Richmond said giving up bad goals has been one of the squad’s biggest issues during their recent stretch.
“We're giving up too many easy goals,” he said. “You're on your heels when that happens.”
Nevertheless, the Steelheads have played fairly well in many of their games. Richmond said he thought the team played well Saturday afternoon against the Erie Otters until they allowed some bad goals and that they could have come away with a victory on Sunday.
“I feel for our guys,” he said. “They worked hard, they played well and they deserved to win.”
The Steelheads outshot the Knights 46-20 in the game.
Teddy Bear toss kicks off a fun-filled game
The Paramount Fine Foods Centre was flooded with stuffed animals after Kai Schwindt opened the scoring for the Steelheads just two minutes in. The goal was nice, but the mountain of toys designated for children’s territories was the highlight.
With the early goal as an indication, the fans that came for the festivities and great cause would be rewarded with an exciting game, though not a win for the home side.
The two teams brought offensive prowess from the drop of the puck, potting five goals in the opening frame, including three in under two minutes.
While a 5-4 scoreboard at the end of the game might often bring criticism for one goalie or another, it is hard to blame either Ryerson Leenders or Zach Bowen. Both goalies had strong moments, especially Bowen, who took control of the game late to seal the deal for the Knights. Leenders, for his part, had to make a few critical saves on odd man rushes and had the save of the night with a flashy glove stop on Brody Crane in the third period.
The biggest factor in the high-scoring game was probably that both teams left a bit to be desired on the defensive side of the puck. The Steelheads in particular struggled to keep track of Knights players in the slot, as two of five goals came on cross-crease plays Leenders had little chance of stopping.
Even more fascinating is that the game could have had more goals, as two goals were waved off for the Steelheads in the second period. The first came in the form of a Luca Del Bel Belluz one-timer narrowly saved by Bowen, which Richmond said “everybody saw” cross the line on the jumbotron. The second came as a call for a high stick against Brice Cooke. Some, including Richmond, thought the puck did not hit his stick, but video review decided otherwise.
The usual suspects provide some offence
It is rare to see a Steelheads game without a goal from one of Owen Beck and Luca Del Bel Belluz, who are now tied for the team lead with exactly 15 goals and 30 points each. This remained the case Sunday, as Del Bel Belluz earned second star of the game honours for his two-goal performance. Beck had just one assist but was noticeable at all ends of the ice, creating chances, breaking up plays and even throwing some hits.
Also noteworthy were the performances of Kai Schwindt and Kasper Larsen. Schwindt scored the goal that sent the teddy bears to the ice and added an assist, while Larsen had two assists. It also looked like the big Danish defenceman could have had a third, as it was his shot that Cooke deflected with the high stick.
Schwindt now sits at 14 points in 25 games, while Larsen has 10 points in 14 games as a defenceman.
Steelheads youngsters provide glimpse of needed depth
While the aforementioned players are the obvious ones to mention for the Steelheads Sunday night, two more players made noteworthy impressions: Lukas Karmiris and Luke Misa.
Karmiris has recently been given more ice time, having been slotted alongside Del Bel Belluz and James Hardie on the lineup sheet. The 16-year-old has taken advantage of the opportunity by finding a role alongside two of the team’s strongest scorers despite not scoring for himself. On Sunday, he was a strong presence defensively, breaking up plays on the backcheck and blocking a few shots, particularly in the first two periods.
His coach has been impressed with his recent play too.
“Karmiris had his best game in the Steelheads outfit yesterday,” Richmond said. “And he built on it today.”
Karmiris, who was drafted 13th overall in the most recent OHL draft, has one assist in 20 games so far this season.
Misa, meanwhile, notched his third goal of the season Sunday on the powerplay. The play, which featured Misa bursting through the neutral zone and unleashing a wrist shot from the faceoff circle, was reflective of what Richmond and the team want to see more of from the speedy young centreman.
Richmond said Misa has to shoot more and the team has been telling him such during practices.
“He's so quick and elusive that if he can get a little spot that opens up for a scoring chance, then [he needs to] shoot it,” he said. “That's what happened tonight.”
Misa now has nine points in 25 games this season.
Del Mastro, Beglieri notable absences for Steelheads
While some players made a difference with their presence on the ice Sunday, others’ absence was noticeable. Without a doubt, the Steelheads felt the difference of not having their captain and their starting goaltender on the ice Sunday afternoon.
Captain Ethan Del Mastro earns praise from Richmond almost every time his name is brought up. Not having the Chicago Blackhawks prospect at their disposal meant the Steelheads had to rely more on the likes of Isaac Enright, Finn Harding and Liam Spencer on Sunday, who did not have particularly poor games but do not bring Del Mastro’s game-breaking ability.
Richmond said Del Mastro, who missed Saturday’s game as well, should be “fine” soon, as the issue appears to have related to a contact in his eye and is not serious.
The other notable absence was goaltender Alessio Beglieri, who was injured Saturday in Erie.
While Leenders did not have a particularly poor game, there were one or two goals that might have been nice for him to have. There is no saying whether Alessio Beglieri would have made those stops or how his fate in this game would have compared, but the Swiss netminder has been the Steelheads’ go-to goaltender, having played in 18 of 25 games. Though his .864 save percentage is not great, the Steelheads will hope Beglieri’s evaluation by training staff on Sunday goes well.
While the short-term implications of losing two key players are serious, the Steelheads should be prepared for such losses given the upcoming World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in December and January. Players who go to world junior camps, make the team and go to the tournament could miss up to six weeks, according to Richmond.
Still, he said, “it is what it is.”
“We develop players, high end NHL caliber players, and they leave early or they make the world junior team,” he said. “You gotta try to tread water while they're away and try to get some wins.”
The Steelheads will try to do just that, with or without Del Mastro and Beglieri, as they take on the Hamilton Bulldogs in a rare morning affair at FirstOntario Centre Wednesday.