By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads battled out a two-point result over the Niagara IceDogs on Friday night, coming up with a 3-2 victory in overtime. The result was their third victory in a row, a feat they had not accomplished since October.
The game was full of storylines coming in, with new captains on the home side of the ice, a player with his eyes set on franchise records in James Hardie, a debut for Stevie Leskovar and former Steelheads Zakary Lavoie and Valdemar Hull returning to Mississauga in IceDogs colours. As it turns out, there would be even more stories coming out of it.
Here are some takeaways from a great game on a cold January night at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
James Hardie makes Steelheads history
The scoring was opened in style on Friday, with James Hardie notching Steelheads franchise records when he beat Owen Flores with a hard wrist shot from the slot in the first period.
The long-time Steelhead got his 115th goal and 208th point with the tally, beating records set by current NHLers Owen Tippett and Michael McLeod.
Hardie tied the two marks with a goal late in Sunday’s victory over the Sudbury Wolves, but Friday’s milestone was much more special. Not only did he break both records, but Hardie was sporting a new letter on his jersey.
Earlier in the week, in his fifth season as a Steelhead, Hardie was awarded the title of co-captain alongside Charlie Callaghan, taking the letter for home games while Callaghan will wear it on the road. In his first game with the C, Hardie found the twine and set the franchise records, writing the ideal story.
Hardie said it was difficult to put into words the way he was feeling after the game, especially having scored the goal with his parents (who he said attend every game) in the stands.
“There's a lot of really good players that have played here,” Hardie said. “To be at the top of that list, it's just amazing.”
Steelheads coach James Richmond said he is “really proud” of Hardie.
“I think that everybody knows that he's a hell of a player and [has] done great things here in Mississauga," said Richmond.
Richmond said younger players on the Steelheads can learn from Hardie’s approach to the game, which results in him keeping “plugging away” and scoring.
“He doesn't get too down. He doesn't get too high. He just comes in, he gets the job done,” said Richmond.
Hardie said his “super cliche” message for the younger players would be not to take their time in the OHL for granted.
“I feel like I just played my first game. It flies by, and it's the best time of your life,” Hardie said. “I just want them to enjoy it as well.”
Hardie still has 30 games left this season to see how high he can set new franchise records, while also chasing Riley Brace’s Mississauga record of 234 points in 304 games split between the Steelheads and the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
Steelheads' new co-captains lead the charge
On a night that was an opportunity for new Steelheads to prove themselves in their newly-learned schemes, it was the team’s longest-serving players that got to make the difference.
While Hardie opened the scoring, it was fellow co-captain Charlie Callaghan who finished out the game with a bang, scoring in overtime to give his team the two points they desired.
Richmond said it was great to see Callaghan get the game-winning goal, as the defenceman “bleeds blue and white.”
“He's a tough kid. He leads by example,” Richmond said. “Everybody loves him in there.”
Hardie was also glad to share the occasion of his record-setting goal with his co-captain, who he called “his best friend.”
“We’ve been here since we were 16 years old,” Hardie said of himself and Callaghan. “It's awesome to share this with him.”
Richmond was confident in his leadership decisions, saying he thought naming Hardie and Callaghan was an “easy choice” and the “right thing to do.”
“I know it's different having two captains, but I think they both deserved it,” said the coach.
Chas Sharpe, who did not score but did log a lot of minutes on the Steelheads blue line on Friday, was also named an assistant captain.
Beglieri looks solid as ever
Since coming back from the World Juniors, Alessio Beglieri has been one of the most consistent and important players for the Steelheads. Beglieri has looked really good in the goal crease over the last couple of weeks with Friday earning him his third victory in as many games back. He has allowed just five goals in that san, while making 67 saves.
Beglieri stole the show in the third period, making 10 of his 23 saves in the game, including a few show-stoppers on wide-open shots and odd-man rushes. The goals that beat him were through a screen and on a rebound on the powerplay, two plays he had little chance on.
RIchmond said Begleiri played “a heck of a game” and cannot be faulted for the two goals given up.
“We started taking on water there in the third period, and he held us in there,” Richmond said.
As for his goaltender’s performance since returning from the world stage, Richmond said nothing had really changed.
“It just seems he's more rested and more comfortable,” Richmond said.
Another tight game between the Steelheads and Ice Dogs
Mississauga’s current and former teams went to battle for the third time this season, coming out with a similar result to the first two. The first matchup, on opening night of the season, ended in a 4-3 overtime victory for the Steelheads, while the second was a 2-1 regulation win for the IceDogs.
The game Friday night also featured its share of animosity, with 17 penalty minutes between the two teams and a lot more that could have been called.
The rough-and-tumble tone was set with a major penalty against Kevin He for a hit-from-behind on Callaghan in the first period (which was answered by Porter Martone throwing off his gloves and going after He, resulting a roughing penalty). There was also a rare 4-on-3 powerplay for the IceDogs, but fans and players seemed to think there were more calls to be made.
This was most apparent in the second and third periods, when a number of hits and after-whistle antics could have resulted in penalties. But the referees kept it consistent, letting players deal with their own difficulties unless it went too far.
The Steelheads thus may not have been happy with a late tripping call against Kasper Larsen that led to the IceDogs tying the game at 2-2 on the powerplay, but the fact is the IceDogs dominated in the final frame of regulation, outshooting the Steelheads 12-9 and looking even more lethal thanks to high-danger opportunities.
Overall, the game was incredibly close and both teams will likely find positives and negatives in the way they played as well as the final result.
The two teams will face off again on Jan. 19 in Niagara and then in Mississauga on Jan. 22 as well as Feb. 17.
Leskovar makes Mississauga debut, other newbies continue to find their stride
The Steelheads’ most recent trade acquisition, Stevie Leskovar, made his Mississauga debut on Friday. The former Peterborough Pete was noticeable on the ice not only because of his 6’4” frame but because of his work in his own end with his stick and body. Add a pretty hard shot from the point (which he demonstrated at least once in the second period) to the repertoire and he looks like a player Richmond will like to have around to fill out his blue line.
Leskovar was not the only Steelhead still working things in, as the Steelheads’ acquisitions from the previous week (Porter Martone, Jack Van Volsen, Justin DeZoete, Angus MacDonell and Adam Zidlicky) were playing in their first game since getting to practice with the team.
MacDonell scored the Steelheads’ second goal, while Van Volsen and Zidlicky were particularly noticeable throughout the game, getting a number of high-quality chances each but not being able to bury a puck passed Flores.
Richmond said the new players “fit in really nicely,” while Hardie was complimentary of his new young teammates, saying they bring a lot of skill and talent.
“We lost three high end really good players, obviously. But we brought in some good players,” Hardie said. “They're gonna be some great players. High-end players.”
“They're gonna be high NHL draft picks one day,” he added.
NEXT: The Steelheads will hope to extend their winning streak to four games as they take on the Barrie Colts Sunday afternoon at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.