By: Mitchell Fox
Friday, Jan. 26 – 3-2 OTL vs Flint Firebirds
Sunday, Jan. 28 – 5-3 W @ Brantford Bulldogs
With two strong goaltending performances by two different goalies, the Mississauga Steelheads claimed three of four possible points this weekend.
On Friday, the Steelheads took on the feisty Flint Firebirds with Jack Ivankovic making his return to the goal crease. Using a strong second period, the Steelheads thrust themselves into overtime, though they gave up the all-important goal for the second point.
On Sunday, with Ryerson Leenders in goal and standing strong, the Steelheads took advantage of limited scoring chances and scored five goals in forty minutes against the Brantford Bulldogs. They held on in the third period and broke a three-game losing skid.
Here are five takeaways from a week of improvement for the Steelheads.
Jack Ivankovic’s return came at the right time
The Steelheads took full advantage of rookie goaltender Jack Ivankovic returning from injury on Friday, using a start at home to give Ryerson Leenders some rest.
Leenders had played 11 straight games, including multiple back-to-backs, while Ivankovic was out and just when his team got a full five-day break, Leenders was headed to the CHL Kubota Top Prospects Game. After a strong performance in that game in Moncton, N.B., on Wednesday, it was ideal timing for Ivankovic to return.
Ivankovic was the Steelheads’ best player at times on Friday, especially in the first period. His team did not make the game as easy on him as his coach probably would have liked the rookie to face in his first game back but Ivankovic had little trouble. The first goal involved a scramble in front after a few Steelheads errors, which he had little chance to see, let alone save, the second goal and the overtime goal came on a long two-on-one and saw a near-perfect shot from Nolan Dann.
Ivankovic made 30 stops on 33 shots in the game, bringing his save percentage to .912 through 12 games this season.
Meanwhile, Leenders appeared to use the short break to his advantage on Sunday, providing steady goaltending from puck drop through an onslaught from the Bulldogs. He kept Brantford scoreless in the second period and made 15 stops in the third, showcasing his usual athleticism and ability to make stops in rapid succession.
At the end of the day, if the Steelheads can go back to having Leenders play the majority but not all of their games and mix in starts for a very capable rookie, it would not be a surprise for their results to improve.
Depth scoring shows what it can do for Mississauga
The Steelheads secured three points, as well as seven goals, in two games without a point from Luke Misa or Porter Martone. Angus MacDonell had one goal, the last of the weekend for Mississauga.
Instead, Jack Van Volsen, Dean Loukus, Marc Boudreau and Adam Zidlicky were the four Steelheads with multi-point weekends. Parker von Richter and Finn Harding also had two assists each on Sunday, while Jakub Fibigr had a goal.
The short story is Mississauga’s depth played a big role in the Steelheads’ relative success this weekend.
On Friday, the Steelheads’ second goal showcased what they need from their middle and bottom six forwards. Though Fibigr and Harding deserve credit for breaking up a Firebirds chance to kick off the play, the clean zone entry by rookies Gabriel Chiarot and Kieran Witkowski followed by Witkowski’s seeing-eye pass to Van Volsen driving the net resulted in a massive goal.
On Sunday, Chiarot and Witkowski had a few more strong moments, but the middle six consisting of Van Volsen, Boudreau, Loukus, Zidlicky, Lucas Karmiris and William Eggleton were the serious different makers. Eggleton’s goal might have been a strange one, but also a savvy one to turn a strong transition play into a game-tying goal (at the time).
The goals were not all as pretty as Van Volsen’s on Friday but they also were not all as strange as Eggleton’s. The Steelheads played the team game head coach James Richmond has been calling for and were unafraid to throw pucks to the net and use every puck touch and every second on the clock to score.
A focus on depth does not mean the top line of Luke Misa, Angus MacDonell and Porter Martone were not good. MacDonell had a goal (his 100th career point) on Sunday and the line had chances in both games. On Friday, they very likely could have had a goal early in the second period but a strange play saw the post knocked off for the second or third time in a few minutes.
That said, if the top line had played a bit better and had a bit more scoring luck, the Steelheads might have won both games. But nobody is counting out those three any time soon – they will likely be back to top form soon.
Steelheads continue to have trouble closing out games
After Friday’s overtime loss, the Steelheads are now the only team in the Ontario Hockey League without an overtime win, though they did win a game in the shootout. The Steelheads have only been to the extra frame five times, while nine of their last 10 games have ended in a one- or two-goal difference, indicative of playing a lot of close games.
The issue is they also lost seven of those 10 games, two in overtime.
The Steelheads started off the overtime much stronger on Friday than they did against the North Bay Battalion a week before, when they did not cross center ice with possession at all. On Friday, the Steelheads started out with possession and a few key chances but whiffed on multiple shots. The Battalion had two premium opportunities, two odd-man rushes for Nolan Dann, the latter of which he scored on.
Mississauga was also a bit lucky to get to overtime at all, as a third period dominated by Flint ended with a breakaway for Connor Clattenburg in the dying seconds.
The Steelheads are not only coming up short in winning games but on their best opportunities to score.
They have not scored a powerplay goal in their last 18 opportunities, dating back to Jan. 10 against the Sudbury Wolves. They only have two powerplay goals in all of January, in 29 chances.
Fatigue and illness are a factor but the Steelheads have not been able to establish themselves with the extra man. If they want to win those close games and they continue to take penalties of their own (no matter that their penalty kill has been strong), they will need to find a strategy that works for them and begin to capitalize on their chances.
Dean Loukus continues to look comfortable
Dean Loukus scored his 50th career OHL goal on Friday, scoring the Steelheads’ first goal of the weekend with a slick deke around Nathan Day.
Loukus has continued to look stronger with each week in blue and white, taking on a role as a veteran, two-way player and proving to play with a high level of detail, something Richmond touted after Loukus’ first game in Mississauga. He gets back on defence and covers well for his teammates and though he has not stolen a ton of attention with his offence, he is now getting on the scoresheet. With an assist on Sunday, he had a point in back-to-back for the first time as a Steelhead.
Loukus has four points in 10 games with Mississauga, for 30 points in 44 games. He has had at least 50 points in each of his last two seasons, which he is on pace just short of at this point. If he continues to find chemistry with the likes of Lucas Karmiris and Jack Van Volsen, he could get back to that pace and be a real difference-maker for the Steelheads’ run to the playoffs.
This week’s three standouts
1. Jack Van Volsen
Jack Van Volsen played in his 100th career OHL game on Friday and capped it off with a goal. On Sunday, he went a step further with a goal and two assists, perhaps seeking to make the milestone a starting point for a new era in his career.
Van Volsen’s goal on Sunday showed a willingness to create something out of an unfavourable situation and not give up on a play. He also moved into a top-line role after Angus MacDonell took a misconduct penalty on Sunday and looked capable.
2. Lucas Karmiris
Despite only having one assist in two games, Lucas Karmiris had a strong week for the Steelheads.
As Zach Bodenstein said on the broadcast, Karmiris was the Steelheads’ best forward for much of Friday’s game. He had a goal called back due to being offside and was one of their better players in transition, alongside Misa.
As a result of the strong game, Karmiris started overtime with Misa. He won the faceoff, resulting in a lot more possession in the first minute and the Steelheads getting the first few chances. He finished the game 17 for 21 in the faceoff circle, which he followed with a nine for 15 performance at the dot on Sunday.
Karmiris is at his strongest when he plays a strong 200-foot game with pace and patience. He had that this week and has shown more of it as the season has progressed.
3. Parker von Richter
He might have had better plays over the weekend but von Richter’s play to set up Angus MacDonell in the second period on Sunday was a showcase of his strengths. He cut off the Bulldogs’ zone exit and made a timely pass off the wall.
Von Richter does not get the ice time or spotlight of other draft-eligible prospects in the OHL but the Mississauga product plays an important role as a shutdown defenceman and puck-mover for the Steelheads. He often suits up on the second or third pairing, filling out a right side with a variety of skill sets and providing a steady presence alongside young players like Dragusica and Reed Gee, or on Sunday, Liam Spencer.
The Steelheads head out on a road trip this week, starting with another visit to North Bay to play the Battalion on Thursday before taking on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Sudbury Wolves.