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Steelheads Takeaways: Mississauga extends points streak to six


BY: MITCHELL FOX


RESULTS:

Friday, Feb. 16 – 6-5 OTL @ Kitchener Rangers

Saturday, Feb. 17 – 4-2 W VS Kingston Frontenacs

Monday, Feb. 19 – 5-1 W VS Owen Sound Attack


With a Family Day win, the Mississauga Steelheads capped off their week with five points for the second straight week, continuing their strong run of play in February.


On Friday, a goal 29 seconds into the game kicked things off on a rough note for Mississauga against the Kitchener Rangers. A flurry of goals in the second period powered them through to overtime, but they could not finish the job, losing 6-5.


The next day saw the Steelheads host the Kingston Frontenacs and dominate, with Luke Misa and Porter Martone putting their skill at the forefront of a 4-2 win.


The week ended on Monday with a Family Day game, which turned out more like a fight between siblings than a family outing as the Steelheads beat the Owen Sound Attack 5-1 in a fiery game.


Here are some takeaways from a successful week for the Steelheads and a variety of their players.


Mississauga have found combinations that work

With points in six straight games -- four wins and two OT losses -- contributing to a 6-3-2 record in February, Mississauga currently have their first winning month since October. 


The Steelheads have found a rhythm. Not every line is on the scoreboard every night, but at least three lines have carved out chemistry, identity and effectiveness in the last two or three weeks.


That effectiveness is captured in the play of a unit featuring Angus MacDonell, Lucas Karmiris and Dean Loukus, especially with their performance on Friday and Monday. The three match well as hard workers who are strong on the puck and play with intensity in all three zones.


Karmiris said he and Loukus have spent a lot of time talking in the dressing room and on the bench to be able to read off of each other. 


“[Loukus] is really calm out there, which is nice. It gives you some reassurance when you're out there. You trust him with the puck,” he said after Monday’s game.


Karmiris’ goal on Monday came on the back of Loukus cutting a pass in the neutral zone, emphasizing the way their line can change the direction of play with their abilities without the puck.

Steelheads head coach and general manager James Richmond says Loukus is helping to get his linemates and teammates going.


“[Loukus] is really coming in and doing what we brought him in to do. [He is] a real attention-to-detail guy, he's hard on the puck [and] he does a lot of things right,” he said. 


Karmiris and MacDonell have also proven to work well together, complementing each other with similar aggressive forechecking and backchecking styles and being able to swap between playing center and the wing. The Steelheads’ alternate captain scored a hat trick on Friday, with two assists from Karmiris.


Karmiris said MacDonell’s energy and grit help power the line.


“He gets under players’ skins, and he works hard. We feed off that kind of energy that he brings [to] our line,” he said of the Dallas Stars prospect. “I love playing with him for sure.”


Richmond said he “did not know” exactly what it is that makes the trio click so well, but he is happy with his lineup right now.


“You put certain guys together and hope that they click,” he said. “I think that [Luke Misa], [Porter Martone] and [Jack Van Volsen] look really good. And the kid line with [Kieran Witkowski], [Gabriel Chiarot] and [MacGregor Richmond], they've been really good the last four or five weeks,” he said.


One pairing that has worked often this season is Martone and Van Volsen. The Steelheads’ fifth goal on Monday saw Martone’s ability to create space and smooth passing combine with Van Volsen’s willingness to go to the net and quick release.

Mississauga have rebounded after a few weeks of struggles due to illnesses and goalscoring woes. If the still-lingering sickness can subside and the Steelheads can find effective spots for Adam Zidlicky and Mason Zebeski when they return to the lineup, they could mount a strong run to the playoffs.


Milestones for Misa, Martone reflect their impact

Luke Misa and Porter Martone have been the Steelheads’ top two players most of the season. They earned some markers to reflect it this week, with Martone scoring his 50th career OHL goal and Misa getting his 100th assist on Saturday.


Martone had four points over the week, including a two-point performance with lots of flash on Saturday.


He is on a seven-game points streak and looks as dynamic as ever, showing off his puck skills by creating plays when it seems like there is nothing to work with.


His lethal shot appeared for a goal on Saturday, which captured his and Misa’s strengths and connection well and notched each of them their career milestones. 


Misa is the Steelheads’ most important playmaker. He sits eighth in the league in assists and has been in that range all year. Now, moving to center and playing with talented goalscorers in Martone and Van Volsen seems to be working for him.


Misa contributed to the Steelheads’ first three goals on Saturday.


His play in that game also caught the attention of scouts.


Misa’s seven-game points streak ended on Monday with a less noticeable performance overall, but his ability to create space with his foot speed and his willingness to commit to team defence when the time calls for it were still apparent. 


The Steelheads will certainly continue to count on Misa and Martone as they build towards the postseason.


Rookie fourth-line hitting their stride in February

The OHL season is long enough and the players are young enough for them to show quite a bit of improvement, in play and mindset, as the season progresses. Richmond was glad to say he could see that in some of his rookies this season.


The Steelheads’ fourth line of MacGregor Richmond, Kieran Witkowski and Gabriel Chiarot has shown a lot of improvement in the New Year. They have found an identity as a checking line, while not losing touch with the skills that made them prospects worth bringing to the OHL.


Richmond said the line has been good in whichever matchups they are put in lately, especially as a forechecking line that makes it difficult for opponents to move up the ice.


“They've gotten better each month,” he said of the three rookies. “We’ve left them together for a bit here now and they're really feeding off each other.”


MacGregor Richmond was hurt in a scary collision on Monday, but Richmond was hopeful the injury will not be too bad.


In his second year, Karmiris is grasping the progression of being in the OHL. He said the first half of the first season is about understanding the league, so now, the young players are doing a great job playing how they have to.


“You see them out there, they look a lot more comfortable with themselves and they're making a big impact for us. They're being responsible, they're not letting goals go in against and they're getting their chances now, too,” he said. “They're doing a great job right now.”


Richmond said the biggest thing for young players to learn is to not be afraid to make mistakes. He said the coaching staff has been on Witkowski, Chiarot and MacGregor Richmond about shooting the puck more.


“All three of them are first-year guys, so they don't want to shoot for whatever reason. They just want to work their butts off and chip it in,” he said after the game on Saturday, adding he wants them to be more confident.


“They don't want to put it towards the net in case something happens. Well, something that might happen is it might go off somebody's leg and in,” he said. “That's the biggest mistake they make is they're afraid to do something.”


Chiarot scored on Saturday, with a rather surprising toe-drag shot. He started the play with a heavy forecheck, trapped the Frontenacs in their zone and got a play started with Misa and Van Volsen. Then he put a puck on, and in, the net. 


“Who knew,” Richmond said with a chuckle.


Team defence stepping up for Mississauga

Though the Steelheads saw their goalie pulled for the second-straight game when Ryerson Leenders was subbed out for Jack Ivankovic on Friday, the team has generally been playing a better all-around defensive game in the last two weeks. Last week, Finn Harding and Parker von Richter led the way with stout rush defending and good transitional play. This week, the whole unit seemed to step up.


With seven defencemen in the lineup on Saturday and Monday, a variety of combinations hit the ice. Nevertheless, they were able to maintain a system that kept the puck to the outsides of the zone for most of the game, especially on Monday.


Richmond said he was happy with his team’s overall game on Friday, despite the loss. On Saturday and Monday, the team was even better defensively and got the goaltending they needed from Ivankovic, hence the positive result.  


“Jack played really well in net and our guys played well in front of him,” Richmond said after Saturday’s game, adding Harding was “dynamite,” Jakub Fibigr was “really high-end” and Stevie Leskovar was “really good.”


One of the biggest factors in a good defensive game for the Steelheads is the play of captain Chas Sharpe, whose best runs have coincided with the team winning games.


Despite scoring a goal, Sharpe had an off-game on Friday, finishing with a -3 rating. He rebounded on Saturday and then again on Monday, however, adding another goal in each of those games and leading the way in two of the Steelheads’ best defensive efforts all season.


Sharpe said the whole group of defencemen has been stepping up lately.


“It starts with our own end,” he said. “However good we are, the team will be. I think we're all just really dialled in right now.”


The Steelheads carried momentum from a good defensive win on Saturday into Monday, shutting down a heavy offence from the Attack. 


“A lot of the shots there today were from the outside, or on the powerplay,” Richmond said after the game, emphasizing the strength of Owen Sound’s second-place powerplay.


Karmiris said shutting down a “lethal” powerplay and not taking too many penalties allowed the Steelheads to control the game. 


“We were dominant at five-on-five the whole game,” he said. 


Karmiris said the team knows how important it is to find ways to get two points, no matter how, in the last fifteen games before the playoffs.


“We all know it's a big stretch coming. Anything's possible in the standings, so we’ve got to battle to get points,” he said. “We're finding a way right now. And hopefully, we keep it going.”

 

This week’s three standouts

1. Lucas Karmiris

The way Richmond spoke about Karmiris all weekend reflects how much of a standout he was for Mississauga. He had two assists on Friday and a goal and two assists on Monday, while on Saturday he might have been the Steelheads’ most consistent defensive forward. 


Karmiris' stack-the-pads save on the penalty kill on Saturday was a highlight of the week. 


Karmiris said everything seems to be clicking for him right now, which starts with his play defensively and ends with putting pucks on the net.


“I want to be strong defensively and make sure I'm dialled in there to make sure I'm reliable on the ice. And then points offensively [are going to] come like they have been,” he said.


Richmond said while his line has been good, nobody should take anything away from Karmiris.


“[Karmiris] has put the work in, in video work with the coaches and meetings. He's starting to understand the process,” Richmond said on Monday. “He reminds me a lot of Owen Beck.”


2. Jakub Fibigr

Jakub Fibigr’s season was disrupted by an ankle injury around the holiday break, which continued to affect him for a while due to playing with tape on it. In the last couple of weeks, Fibigr looks like a better version of himself.


Fibigr is still likely the Steelheads’ best skater on the blue line and moves the puck well. He is unafraid to jump up in the play or make a risky pinch on the blue line, which lately has been working more than not. 


Richmond said Fibigr has improved on the defensive side of the puck. Like many players, he has developed since moving to the OHL (in his case from Czechia).


“All players, not just import players, [want to] get noticed by the offence. But the harder you play defensively, the more you have the puck offensively. He really sees that now,” Richmond said, adding Fibigr has been putting in “a ton of work” with the coaches and video staff.


Richmond said NHL scouts are taking notice of Fibigr’s play and bumping him up their scouting lists for the upcoming NHL Draft.


“He's been really, really good,” he said.


Richmond also mentioned Fibigr has always played well in front of his parents, who were in town this weekend.


“We've got to move his mum and dad here,” he joked.


3. Jack Ivankovic

Jack Ivankovic played more hockey this week than he has in any week this season. He came into the game early in the second period on Friday, then started back-to-back games for the first time this season with hsi appearances on Saturday and Monday.


Better yet, Ivankovic won both of those games and the Steelheads outscored the Rangers in the portion he played on Friday. Richmond was happy with Ivankovic’s play all weekend.


“[Ivankovic] went in the game in Kitchener, played really well [and] was able to get us back in the game. Then [he] played a great game against Kingston and was better today,” Richmond summarized.


Karmiris gave Ivankovic a lot of credit as well.


“He was great for us tonight, and we shut it down for him,” he said on Monday.


Ivankovic now has a 9-3-4 record this season along with a .913 save percentage. He is impressing as a rookie, much as Leenders did last year. If he can provide the same support and take off the way Leenders did late in the season and in the playoffs last year, Richmond and the Steelheads will certainly be thrilled.


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