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Steelheads Takeaways: Mississauga captures 5 of 6 points over stretched-out week


By: Mitchell Fox


RESULTS:

3-2 OTL VS Guelph Storm

5-1 W @ London Knights

5-4 SOW VS Sudbury Wolves


To follow up a tough three-in-three, the Mississauga Steelheads won two of three games over an extended week, securing five of six possible points by getting to overtime.


The Steelheads started out the week with a rare Wednesday game, hosting the Guelph Storm for a school-day game. With many young fans from schools in the area in attendance, the Steelheads and Storm fed into the energy as they battled to a 3-2 Guelph victory in overtime.


Two days later, the Steelheads took down the London Knights at their home rink, pulling away with a 5-1 victory over one of the league’s most high-powered teams.


On Sunday, the trout engaged in a fiery back-and-forth battle with the Sudbury Wolves and held the fort to the shootout, where Luke Misa’s goal gave them a 5-4 shootout victory.


The two games that went to extra frames were the first two of the kind for the Steelheads this season, who have had lots of lopsided scores one way or the other.


Here are five takeaways for the Mississauga Steelheads after a week of easier travel and promising performances.


The Storm might be the perfect matchup for the Steelheads

Wednesday’s game just might have been the most fun game to be at as a reporter covering the Steelheads. Not only did the students in attendance bring everything they had as fans but the players bought into the infectious energy in the building.


Two similar teams with similar speed and strong goaltending decided to open the floodgates from the opening puck drop, with open ice up the middle leaving room for odd-man rushes. The Steelheads came out with skill on their mind – just about every forward on the team tried a toe drag, between-the-legs move or reverse off the boards through the first twenty minutes – but the Storm proved to have a lot of skill up front too.


Still, the score remained 1-1 thanks to the strong play of Jack Ivankovic and Brayden Gillespie in goal for their respective sides. A goal for each side in a third period where the Steelheads controlled the play was not the expected outcome for Mississauga, but the close game was exciting and brought out the Steelheads’ best, even with some lineup adjustments.


“It was two really good teams going toe to toe,” Richmond said after the game on Wednesday. “I think we had the better of the play in the third, they won the second, and the first was kind of a split for me. Really, it was that tight of a game.


“[The Storm are] a good team. They're well coached and they keep you from getting inside,” he added. “I thought we deserved at least a point and we had chances in overtime.”


For fans, seeing more of the Steelheads playing the kind of hockey they played on Wednesday and feeling the energy in the building brought out by two exciting, young teams would be perfect as the season goes on.


Steelheads built on Wednesday's strong third period

The second period on Wednesday was undoubtedly a down period for the Steelheads. The Storm took over a little after Gillespie made a stellar windmill glove save on Luke Misa and eventually opened the scoring with a deflection by Wil McFadden.


“[We were] chasing the game a little bit,” Richmond said of the second period on Friday, “We let them have the puck too much and we weren't as aggressive getting pucks back.”


The final frame told a different story, which thrilled Richmond. The trout held the Storm off the shot counter for 11 minutes (until Jett Luchanko’s goal) and outshot them 12-3 in the frame, keeping them away from the slot with strong rush defending. They also created a lot of chances of their own, once again buying into their own speed and efficient puck movement up the ice.


“The third may have been one of our best periods all year,” Richmond said.


What’s more important than the one point lost by not finishing out that game in overtime (which ended in a nice goal by Vilmer Alriksson) is the way the Steelheads carried on their play from Wednesday’s third period throughout the week.


On Friday, they one-upped a high-powered Knights team by generating offence when they had to in the back half of the game, especially on the powerplay. They also took just two penalties (they took just one on Wednesday too), a good sign of their discipline improving from past weeks.


On Saturday, facing another strong opponent in the division-rival Wolves, they ran into penalty trouble but managed to score enough at five-on-five to keep the game close right into overtime, where they overwhelmed the Wolves and outshot them 6-0. The real key was allowing just 26 shots against, the third-fewest they have allowed this season.


Winning the game in shootout was probably far from the plan but the two points they got out of it look nice on their spot at the top of the Eastern Conference.


Steelheads outshoot opponents in three straight

One thing the Steelheads have had trouble with this season is keeping the workload light for Ivankovic and Ryerson Leedners, their goalies. As a result, the shot counts in their games have been high, often with opponents outshooting them.


Previously, James Richmond told the media he was glad to see his team decrease the chances against their goaltenders in a game against the Peterborough Petes. That faltered the rest of that weekend against the Erie Otters and Soo Greyhounds.


This week, though, they managed to outshoot all three of the Storm, Knights and Wolves, marking the first time they have outshot their opponents in three games in a row since Oct. 5-8, during their red-hot 7-1 start to the season.


On Friday, the Steelheads allowed the fewest shots against they have all season with just 22 compared to 36 shots for, resulting in their second-best shot differential in a game this season. Taking advantage of that by winning the game would have been nice, but Brayden Gillespie was just too good and the Storm proved opportunistic and unrelenting.


“This is kind of how we want to play,” Richmond said after Friday’s game, noting the team knows it shouldn’t be giving up as many chances as they have been and have been working on it in practice.


“Just one puck short of winning,” he added.


Saturday’s 32-30 shot count was surprising given the lopsided final score in favour of Mississauga, while Sunday’s 32-26 advantage in shots was due to the Steelheads outshooting the Wolves 6-0 in overtime.


Still, keeping the shots to 30 or fewer is a good achievement for the Steelheads, who had only done so two times in their last 13 games entering Wednesday’s matchup with Guelph. Leenders and Ivankovic are bound to wear down if they face 40 shots every game, so keeping the shots down will help them continue to be two of the most promising goalies in the OHL. If they both keep up their .910 SV% or better goaltending, 30 shots would mean less than three goals against per game, a good number for the Steelheads, who have scored five or more goals in six of their last eight games.


Martone-MacDonell connection didn’t work on Wednesday, but remains strong


James Richmond has almost always been a fan of finding pairs of forwards who work together well and building malleable lines from there. Last year’s trade deadline changed that up a bit, but this year, he has re-established that with Porter Martone and Angus MacDonell as a seemingly inseparable duo, while Luke Misa and Mason Zebeski have often taken shifts together.


That was how things started on Wednesday, but after a down second period and a couple of shifts with his stars trapped in their defensive zone, Richmond made a change. He split up the seemingly inseparable duo and put Martone with Misa, moving Zander Veccia to MacDonell’s line.


“I wasn't happy with the way things were looking in the second so made the changes into the third,” Richmond said.


“They were both not so good together today,” he added on Martone and MacDonell.


The two were also on the ice together for the overtime goal against, with a turnover resulting in Alriksson’s overtime breakaway goal. MacDonell’s backcheck on that play was commendable but the ending was a microcosm of something just not working for a game.


But in case near-point-per-game stat lines for both players were not enough evidence, that does not mean the duo does not work or will not be sticking together.


On Friday, the two were able to connect on multiple goals. The powerplay unit featuring the Steelheads’ big three forwards – MacDonell, Martone and Misa – has proven too overpowering for a lot of opponents’ penalty kills, including on this goal against London.

Martone and MacDonell also picked up assists on Adam Zidlicky’s goal with just 10 seconds left in the game, finishing off a dominant last few minutes of the game for the Steelheads.


On Sunday, the pair of former Sarnia Sting were not as present on the scoresheet but Martone did score once again, his 17th of the season in 25 games. Martone is already one of the top 2025 NHL Draft-eligible players, but if he and MacDonell can get their connection going to its full potential – which showed in last year’s playoffs and has at times this season – both players, Martone’s draft stock and the Steelheads will reap the benefits.


Weekend standouts

Here are my three stand-out players for the weekend.


1. Finn Harding

Finn Harding scored two goals and had an assist over the week, earning him third star of the game on Wednesday and second star on Sunday. His offensive presence in recent weeks, added to his smart stickwork and defensive positioning, has helped make him a key piece on the blue line.


Harding scored his fourth goal of the season on Wednesday, firing a shot from the blue line past Gillespie through a set of screens. He then scored his fifth goal and had an assist on Sunday.


The former eighth-round OHL Draft pick also had at least two other quality chances from the point in Wednesday’s game, as he bought into a gameplan to shoot high on Gillespie. He had six shots for the weekend, showing some more confidence in his game.


Having tied his 10 points from last year in about a third of the games, Harding's offensive chops have improved from last season. Recently, his puck protection has been noticeable – he evades forecheckers with quick feet and tight edgework even when it feels certain he will cough up the puck – and he has joined the offence on the rush and in the zone more.

Harding currently leads the Steelheads in plus-minus at a +25 rating, with Luke Misa behind him at +20. Plus-minus is an unreliable stat, but Harding has had a negative rating in just one game this year.


2. Zander Veccia

Veccia made the game’s biggest play on Friday when he set up Luke Misa’s goal to tie the game at 1-1 with an impressive toe drag around a defenceman beside the net. Less than five minutes later, he then picked up a turnover and fired in quick shot for a powerplay goal to give the Steelheads a lead they would never look back from. Though Luke Misa scored three goals, it could be argued Veccia had the biggest impact on that game by turning it in the Steelheads’ favour.

He scored late in the second period once again on Sunday, giving the Steelheads a fourth goal that proved necessary to get to overtime and the shootout. Perhaps out of respect for the way he has played recently, Richmond also gave him the first shot in that shootout.


Veccia has 21 points in 25 games this season. While his five goals are below the pace he set last year, his playmaking ability seems to have taken a step up as he has bought into a role as a shifty puck-mover and has been a big part of a red-hot line with Misa and Mason Zebeski.


3. Luke Misa

Misa was already given the first star of the game twice over the week but to leave him off of this list would be a crucial mistake. The Oakville, Ont. product continues to shine bright for the Steelheads, with a hat trick on Friday and another goal on Sunday bringing his season total to 11, alongside 26 assists for 37 points in 25 games.


He also scored the shootout winner on Sunday.

The hat trick, secured with an empty-net goal, was Misa’s second of the season already. He stood out at the start of the season because his goal-scoring ability was notably better than last season but it regressed while he went into his (highly-effective) playmaking ways for a couple of weeks. This weekend, he reminded people he could score goals in almost any situation once again.


The Steelheads kick off a three-game weekend against the North Bay Battalion on Friday. Stay tuned for more from Mitchell and our whole team at Intermission Sports.


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