Wolves drop pre-season opener to Soo

Sudbury Star

Exhibition play continues on Sunday

Sudbury Wolves goalie Mitchell Weeks (35) keeps an eye on the puck during OHL pre-season action against the Soo Greyhounds at Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

For Owen Gilhula, a new pre-season has brought both new opportunity and greater expectations.

The Sudbury Wolves forward, who hopes to be both healthier and more consistent in his fourth OHL campaign, feels he has laid a good groundwork in training camp for regular-season success.

“I have had some health problems with my shoulder and stuff like that in the past, so I just want to stay in the lineup, play my game and help the team win,” said Gilhula, who spent most of training camp, as well as a large part of Saturday’s exhibition opener, skating alongside Blake Murray and Nolan Hutcheson.

“I feel good,” Gilhula said. “Me, Hutch and Murr have been clicking so far and it’s early in the season, so we’re still trying lines out, but I’m feeling good right now.”

The 19-year-old from Stratford, Ont. used a well-aimed wrist shot to score Sudbury’s first pre-season goal on Saturday, though it wasn’t enough to hold off the swift-skating Soo Greyhounds in a 7-2 loss for the Pack.

Macauley Carson also scored for Sudbury, which looked like a team still building its roster and building chemistry following a competitive training camp that ran Wednesday to Friday.

Emmett Serensits (27) of the Sudbury Wolves bumps Marc Boudreau (13) of the Soo Greyhounds during OHL pre-season action at Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

“We haven’t had a practice as a team and it was our first real game together, so there was good things and obviously bad things,” Gilhula said. “But I think we’re going to take the good things and move on. We have a game in Ottawa tomorrow, so we’re focusing on that. Tonight was definitely a tough one, because no one likes losing like that, but it’s pre-season and that’s what pre-season is for.”

Sunday’s game in Ottawa is set for a 4 p.m. start.

Hutcheson assisted on Gilhula’s goal, while David Levin and Shane Bulitka had the helpers on Carson’s late tally. Mitchell Weeks made 15 saves and David Bowen 11 for the Wolves.

Joe Carroll scored twice and Tanner Dickinson, Kalvyn Watson, Jacob LeGuerrier, Jacob Holmes and Tye Kartye once each for the Hounds, who recorded two power-play goals and one short-handed. Christian Propp went the distance in the Soo goal, making 25 saves.

“They’re a good team, they’re built with speed and they play hard,” Cory Stillman, Sudbury’s head coach, said of the Greyhounds. “We were playing catch-up and realizing if I’m not in my spot, then good players will make good things happen.”

With several 16- and 17-year-old rookies dressing for Saturday’s contest, Stillman certainly expected some growing pains. He’ll rely on Sudbury’s veterans to help the youngsters move past their disappointment and prepare for action on Sunday.

“Those guys need to talk about how tough the league is and how quickly these turnarounds go,” Stillman said. “You play on a Saturday, you’re going to play on a Sunday afternoon. That happens every weekend here. You need to put the game behind you, come out and be ready to play. It’s a four o’clock game, a quick turnover, and things change in 24 hours.”

Alex Johnston (15) of the Soo Greyhounds handles the puck while Andre Anania (3) and Nick DeGrazia (2) of the Sudbury Wolves defend during OHL pre-season action at Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

With the likes of Weeks, Bowen and Jonathan Lemaire vying to fill the goaltending void left by Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s graduation to the professional ranks, Stillman and his staff are keeping a close eye on how those netminders react in real-game situations.

“Sometimes, it’s not the good goals that go in, it’s the bad goals,” he said. “So we’ll sit down and watch tape and decide which is a good goal and which is a bad goal. The other part is how many plays get killed? How many extra shots do we give up when a play should be killed? Could be one, two, and that can change momentum of hockey games.”

With another skilled, speedy team waiting in the nation’s capital, Sudbury’s bench boss would like to see fewer short-handed situations than the 11 his team faced on Saturday,

“We have to stay out of the box. Ten penalties is too many. Some of them were real calls and some, I don’t think were great calls. But you play a third of the game in the penalty box, you’re going to lose every night.”

Gilhula hopes to play a role in a better outcome, and not just with goals or assists.

“I came into this league as a 16-year-old, so I know how it is,” he said. “This year, I do want to be a leader. It’s a tough league as a 16-year-old and you can play here or there, or you can play a lot. It’s a long season and kind of a grind, but we’re a good team here and we’re close, so we can work it out.”

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

Jacob LeGuerrier (8) of the Soo Greyhounds handles the puck while Nick DeGrazia (2) of the Sudbury Wolves defends during OHL pre-season action at Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Chase Stillman (16) of the Sudbury Wolves faces off with Alex Johnston (15) of the Soo Greyhounds during OHL pre-season action at Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, August 31, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

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