By: Mitchell Fox
Friday, Dec. 8 – 5-3 L VS North Bay Battalion
Saturday, Dec. 9 – 4-3 L @ Barrie Colts
Sunday, Dec. 10 – 5-3 W VS Niagara IceDogs
The Mississauga Steelheads finished a three-in-three weekend with three of a possible six points, enough to be tied for first place in the Eastern Conference a week before the holiday break.
The Steelheads started the weekend with a 5-3 loss to the North Bay Battalion. The Battalion got a hat trick from Dalyn Wakely and three points each from Anthony Romani and Owen Van Steensel, all of whom also had three points against the Steelheads on Oct. 19.
On Saturday, Mississauga ran into the Barrie Colts and goaltender Sam Hillebrandt, losing a close game 4-3 in overtime. Hillebrandt stumped the Steelheads for the third time this season, making 40 saves and improving his save percentage versus the Steelheads to 0.955.
On Sunday, the Steelheads took down the lowly Niagara IceDogs 5-3 but did not make it easy for themselves, turning a strong start into a sloppy finish marked by penalties.
Here are five takeaways from the Steelheads’ simply satisfactory weekend.
Teddy bear toss brightens up the weekend
The Steelheads' annual Teddy Bear Toss on Sunday provided a heart-warming story amid a tough three-game weekend. Three of six possible points are good but not great, but the real story is a celebration of all the teddy bears donated to support Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities.
Porter Martone was the player fortunate enough to score the momentous goal, prodding home a loose puck behind IceDogs goaltender Owen Flores for an unconventional goal just as a Steelheads’ powerplay ended. For a moment the goal looked like it was going to be called back due to a review, but it stood and Martone’s moment remained in all its glory, for charity, for the fans and for his team.
“That was pretty cool seeing all the teddy bears fly over the ice,” Martone said after the game.
He said he did not even notice the play was being reviewed until a coach told him but what mattered in the end was the Steelheads getting the lead and a win they needed.
Still, the weekend showed there are things for the Steelheads to work on. Friday showed the importance of starting on time, Saturday highlighted a need for defending to the final buzzer and Sunday demonstrated the need for discipline late. Martone said the team felt they started well on Saturday but lost track when they started turning over the puck and not playing a 200-foot game.
“It was an inter-division game so it was tough to lose that extra point,” Martone reflected on Sunday.
Still, he was confident in the young group the Steelheads have.
“I feel like if we continue to keep on working, we're still going to be at the top of the East.”
Six points in three games for Porter Martone
With two points in each game for the weekend, Martone decided to remind everyone just how much talent he has and will have by the time he is NHL draft-eligible in 2025.
Martone’s scoring ability is unmatched on the Steelheads and a lot of teams in the OHL, indicated by his team-leading 20 goals in 28 games. His slick skill and dart of a wrist shot stand out when paired with his size, strength and skating ability.
What made this weekend interesting was Martone was not always playing with the same linemates, and might not have shared any five-on-five time with usual centerman Angus MacDonell on Sunday.
Against the IceDogs, Martone took the ice alongside his former Toronto Jr. Canadiens teammate Jack Van Volsen, as well as Mason Zebeski, who has often played with Misa this season. It was a different look but it worked to some degree, as Martone had his two-point night and Steelheads coach James Richmond said he thought Van Volsen had a better game than earlier in the weekend and Zebeski was good outside of his discipline.
Richmond has always liked to move things around but it seems he plans to enter the holiday break and trade deadline season with lots of options up his sleeve.
“Now's the time to try things before we get to playoffs,” he said about the lineup.
Martone said it was cool playing with his former minor midget teammate, Van Volsen.“[Van Volsen is] a very smart player,” Martone said. “He knows where I am on the ice at all times and knows where to move me the puck.”
Martone, who has had a lot of success in his young career, said he believes he just has to keep showing up to the rink and doing what’s expected of him to be ready for the draft next year. He also knows he has a promising group around him to build off.
“We’ve got an amazing young core and everyone here’s got great potential,” Martone said.
“We've all bought into roles and we don't care who scores the goals or gets the assists, we just want to win games. That's a great thing to have, especially if we want to go on a run this year and next year.”
Leenders bounces back, no questions in the crease
The Steelheads have one of the most unique, fascinating and promising goaltending situations in the OHL. Ryerson Leenders is one of the top goalie prospects for this year’s NHL Draft and Jack Ivankovic was picked seventh overall in the most recent OHL Draft.
Leenders took the crease on Friday against a strong Battalion squad Mississauga needed seven goals to beat on Oct. 19. The Battalion took over from puck drop, beating Leenders just 1:06 in and then two more times before the halfway mark of the opening frame. Leenders’ 27 saves were no joke but it is fair to say it was not the start he wanted.
The bright side is Leenders bounced back on Sunday and ended the weekend on a very good note. He made 25 saves in the third period as the Steelheads struggled to hold off the IceDogs while taking several penalties, resulting in two five-on-three powerplays. Leenders was his team’s best penalty killer – the Steelheads killed all six IceDogs powerplays in the game – and his coach was happy to say so.
“[Leenders] was fabulous there in the third period at five-on-three,” Richmond said after the game, noting his team cannot afford to put themselves down that way.
“I'm sure he wasn't too happy with his game Friday. He was really good today.”
Ivankovic started on Saturday, taking the middle game in a three-game weekend just as planned. He had an almost exact match to Leenders’ game on Friday, allowing four goals on 30 shots. The difference was Ivankovic was beaten in the third period, including the game-tying goal with just two minutes left.
Ivankovic got to overtime but the first shot in the extra frame was Kashawn Aitcheson’s game-winner. The shot hit his glove, though it was on a two-on-one following a turnover.
“Our goalies have been pretty good this year,” Richmond said after Sunday’s game. “[They are] both young guys and they're both doing well.”
Martone said Leenders was “amazing” on Sunday and the team trusts both of their goalies to make the big saves when they need them.
“We need to help them out a bit, not giving [up] that many shots, but we trust them back there to make those saves,” he said.
The Steelheads know what they have in goal. The two young goaltenders have both posted save percentages over .900, with Leenders having the larger sample size thanks to being the go-to older guy. Ivankovic will have lots of chances over the next couple of years, so for now, they will likely use him as a reliable backup.
Luke Misa’s versatility is a bonus, but where does he stick?
Luke Misa leads the Steelheads with 44 points. The Draft-eligible forward has taken a significant step up from last season, while turning his impressive speed into a game-breaking ability rather than a strong asset.
Misa had a great weekend once again, with three points on Sunday capping off a six-point weekend. He scored on both Friday and Sunday to show his offensive chops extend far beyond passing.
Early in the season, Misa found success playing on the wing as he could focus more on driving the puck up the ice and finding room in the slot to use his much-improved shot. When Richmond moved him to play center for a few weeks, though, Misa not only stayed hot but proved his worth defensively and at the faceoff dot.
This weekend, he started out at center on Friday but moved to the wing for Saturday’s contest with the Colts. He also played the wing on Sunday and found unbelievable chemistry with MacDonell and Zander Veccia at five-on-five (while continuing to dominate alongside MacDonell and Martone on the powerplay). Richmond knows what he thinks is best for Misa, so he wanted to put him with MacDonell to see what could happen.
“I think if he's gonna play in the NHL, he is going to be a winger,” Richmond said of Misa.
One reason for Misa’s move to the wing this weekend was likely Adam Zidlicky’s absence as he attends Czechia’s World Juniors camp. Without Zidlicky’s speedy presence on the wing, it probably made sense to move Misa to the wing and move one of Van Volsen or Lucas Karmiris up the lineup rather than one of Marc Boudreau or William Eggleton.
Richmond said Misa has looked good at center as well as the wing, but there is more to it.
“We’ve gotta get Van Volson and Karmiris more involved at the center position,” he said.
No matter where he plays, the likelihood is Misa will continue to be a top talent for the Steelheads. The real question is how the rest of the lineup shapes out for three more games before the holiday break and less than a month to the trade deadline.
3 Standouts of the Week
Zidlicky had a goal and an assist on Friday, but that is not why he is a standout this week.
The 18-year-old was out of the lineup on Saturday and Sunday because he was preparing to make the trip over the Atlantic to join Team Czechia at their World Juniors camp. Zidlicky is all but confirmed to have made the team, as originally reported by Zach Bodenstein.
Zidlicky was a bit quiet to start the season but has picked up the pace – literally and figuratively – in recent weeks and has proven himself to be an important offensive piece for the Steelheads. He has five points in his last seven games since snapping an eight-game point-less streak.
“It's great for him,” Richmond said of Zidlicky’s opportunity at the World Juniors, adding it is also good for the Steelheads franchise to have a player at the tournament.
As for the lineup with Zidlicky out?
“It's just next man up now,” Richmond said.
MacDonell had a fantastic week, adding more assists in each game as the weekend went on.
His assists on Friday and Saturday came on the powerplay, where he has proven to be a very important piece around the net. His assist to Martone’s first goal on Saturday was an impressive display of vision.
MacDonell’s biggest show came on Sunday, when four assists earned him the first star of the game. His assist on Misa’s goal might have been his nicest because of the skilled play he made to evade a defender on the boards.
The performance put MacDonell back over a point-per-game for the season, with 29 points in 27 games now. Last season he had a lot more goals than assists, but perhaps as a result of playing with Martone, MacDonell has proven himself to be a capable playmaker this year.
I wanted to give a standout spot to Zander Veccia but it has to go to Sharpe. Along with an assist on Saturday, the Steelheads captain had two goals on Sunday, including the game-winner. His other goal was a rocket of a one-timer.
Sharpe has had a stand-out campaign in his overage season, boosting his offence while maintaining a strong defensive presence and being a go-to guy for Richmond in any scenario. He has 10 goals – double what he had last season – and 23 points in 29 games. He was very good on Sunday, with a +3 rating and the two goals coming alongside being the Steelheads’ most important penalty killer in a game where they needed it.
The Steelheads play on the road against the Oshawa Generals on Wednesday before returning to Paramount Fine Foods Centre to host the Generals and then the Ottawa 67’s before their holiday break begins.