BY: MITCHELL FOX
Thursday, Feb. 1 – 3-0 L @ North Bay Battalion
Friday, Feb. 2 – 6-3 W @ Soo Greyhounds
Sunday, Feb. 4 – 6-3 L @ Sudbury Wolves
With off-ice news of a pending move to Brampton on fans’ minds, the Mississauga Steelheads had to set their sights on a challenging Northern Ontario road trip. The games themselves saw the Steelheads claim two of six available points, with a 12-9 combined scoreline.
On Thursday, the Steelheads were shut out by Dom Divincentiis and the North Bay Battalion – formerly of Brampton, ironically enough – as their offence came up empty in a low-event game.
Friday saw Mississauga not only bounce back but locate their offensive firepower, defeating the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 6-3 with two goals each from Angus MacDonell, Jack Van Volsen and Adam Zidlicky.
Finally, the Steelheads ended the week with another 6-3 final on Sunday, this time ending up on the losing side against the league’s highest-scoring team, the Sudbury Wolves.
Here are some takeaways from a dramatic news-filled week for the Steelheads.
Steelheads' future takes the spotlight on big road trip
With news the team will be moving up the street – about seven kilometres, to be exact – to Brampton next season, the focus for many Steelheads followers is the future. For the team itself, that may just be the case as well.
The Steelheads have many games left to play and are almost certainly a playoff team, but with a recent slide, it does not feel like they are on par with some of the league’s top teams.
Beating the Greyhounds – a team near the top of the standings – and a seven-point gap between the top six teams in the Eastern Conference is evidence the Steelheads could surprise teams in the playoffs. However, just five wins in 14 games in 2024 are not a positive sign.
Nevertheless, Mississauga’s claim to fame, and their best asset for succeeding in Brampton next season, is being a good young team that should be a top contender in 2024-25 and 2025-26, if not beyond.
The only Steelheads who will age out at the end of this season are Chas Sharpe, Dean Loukus and Marc Boudreau, while Stevie Leskovar is their only player born in 2004. The core group of Porter Martone, Luke Misa, Angus MacDonell and the goaltenders, Ryerson Leenders and Jack Ivankovic, have a lot of time left to pull the Steelheads towards regular season and playoff success.
The youngsters were difference-makers for the Steelheads this weekend. Among draft-eligible players, Jack Van Volsen had three points, Misa had two and Jakub Fibigr had two, while Leenders made some potential game-changing saves in his two games. Lucas Karmiris, who is not draft-eligible until 2025, had four assists on Friday, while rookie Jack Ivankovic kept the game close on Thursday.
The youth is there for the Steelheads. Something needs to change to alter their trajectory towards the playoffs, but there are signs of things to come as the team continues its move into a new era.
Karmiris and Van Volsen answering the bell
Earlier in the season, there were questions about whether Lucas Karmiris and Jack Van Volsen were able to fill the second-line center role for the Steelheads. Over the last two months, the two sophomores have demonstrated abilities not only as centers – both had strong stretches in the faceoff circle – but stepped up as depth scorers.
Friday saw Karmiris and Van Volsen, as well as their linemate Angus MacDonell, step up in a big way. With a combined 10 points as the result, the three players claimed all three stars of the game thanks to playing with infectious energy, even pressing hard in the final seconds of the first period.
Karmiris has displayed noteworthy passing ability in recent weeks, though it has not always resulted in points on the scoresheet. It did on Friday, when he had a couple near-goals as well. Karmiris earned OHL Performer of the Night honours for the performance, which included two highlight-reel assists.
As for Van Volsen, his two goals on Friday were a further indication of the scoring streak he has picked up this season in compared to last. He now has 14 goals in 43 games, with 10 coming in his last 18 games.
Both of his goals on Friday came on the rush, with Van Volsen demonstrating a hunger to drive the net and ability to finish on his chances, the two biggest issues he had early in the season.
The fact neither Karmiris or Van Volsen played a lot at center this week becomes inconsequential with their play, though Richmond and company would likely hope to see them produce like they did on Friday on separate lines and on a more consistent basis.
Karmiris now has 19 points this season, already one more than his total last season. Van Volsen has 22 points, a pace of 0.51 goals per game, a step up from a year ago.
Powerplay continues to struggle
One of the most concerning numbers for the Steelheads right now comes from the powerplay. Despite strong penalty killing as has been a trend all season – their 81.9% penalty-killing rate ranks fifth in the league – the Steelheads have been losing the special teams game within the game.
Mississauga have not scored on the powerplay since Jan. 10, the last time they played the Wolves. They are scoreless in their last 27 powerplay opportunities.
Their last goal came off the stick of MacDonell, with assists from Misa and Martone. The big three connected to take advantage of a big opportunity in the third period of a 1-1 game. Since then, the Steelheads have tried several different looks on the powerplay, including with the big three together or split up and with one or two defencemen.
While they have been able to create quality chances in the zone, the biggest challenge for Mississauga is getting the play started. On Sunday, the Wolves were able to slow down the Steelheads not only over their defensive blue line but coming out of their own zone. If the Steelheads did get in, they rarely were able to get set up and move the puck around as they would like.
Shots from the point have been the one area the Steelheads have had success – they had two goals from defencemen on Sunday – so they may have to find a way to facilitate more that way to end their slump with the man advantage.
Steelheads need to find a line for Porter Martone
Porter Martone has long been touted as a top talent for the 2025 NHL Draft for a reason. He is easily the Steelheads’ most skilled forward and likely has the best shot on the team, one that puts him among the best in the OHL (he sits fifth in goals).
However, the young prospect has not quite been himself of late. Though he has made high-skill plays, he has been caught out of position at times and has not piled on the scoresheet. His assist on Sunday was his first point in six games, marking the first time all season he went without a point in more than two straight games.
The positive for Mississauga is Martone has not stopped producing completely. He is still generating chances and had five shots in two of his last five games. He also has looked like a good fit with Adam Zidlicky, another offence-first, flashy kind of winger.
The big question is who to pair Martone with now. The experiment with Misa and Zidlicky/William Eggleton does not seem to be working but there are other options. MacDonell and Martone were something of a dynamic duo earlier in the season, Van Volsen and Martone have established a connection and the former could play on the wing or center and Karmiris has been playing well lately, including at several positions. The Steelheads certainly have options, but getting Martone, as well as Misa, going to the best of their abilities will be key to getting out of a losing trend.
This Week’s Three Standouts
1. Adam Zidlicky
Zidlicky had four points on Friday, two goals and two assists. He was not awarded one of the stars of the game but was easily one of the Steelheads’ top players, providing speed and energy on most shifts. He had several breakaway opportunities, though he did not score on any of them.
Zidlicky’s first goal, a backhand from the high slot, caught everyone on the ice off guard.
2. Jakub Fibigr
With a three-point weekend, Fibigr has four points in his last four games, bringing his season total 24 points in 41 games.
The rookie blueliner has been the Steelheads’ most consistent offensive defenceman, while also being a reliable rush defender. He proved that in a +5 performance on Friday. He and Chas Sharpe have proven to work together well, while he also contributes to a speedy pairing with Finn Harding and can work with Parker von Richter – the Steelheads have a reliable one in Fibigr.
3. Chas Sharpe
Speaking of reliability, that is what Chas Sharpe is meant to provide for the Steelheads. The captain is their leading scorer on the blueline but is also an all-around force on defence.
Though his -3 combined on Thursday and Sunday, Sharpe’s +4 performance on Friday saw him contribute in a range of ways. He moved the puck well, shut down the front of the net and perhaps most notably, made a couple of key blocked shots to help out his goaltenders.
The captain has another half-season in Mississauga, and his play will likely be crucial to their path to and through the playoffs.