By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-1 result Sunday afternoon at Paramount Fine Foods Centre, falling to the Kitchener Rangers.
With the loss, the Steelheads find themselves sitting sixth in the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference with 31 points.
Here are some takeaways from a fantastic afternoon of hockey in Mississauga.
A slow start gives way to an exciting game
The game did not quite start how the Steelheads might have hoped, but they were fortunate the same could be said for their opponent. Both teams struggled to get their offence going in the first period, as the puck did not seem to want to stay on sticks. An 11-8 shot total in favour of the home team did not reflect much, as many of those shots came from outside of the slot for both teams.
In some ways, this was a great sign for the Steelheads, who were looking for a different-looking defence group to step up with Ethan Del Mastro away with the Canadian world juniors team and Charlie Callaghan out of the lineup. They kept the Rangers away from the slot for much of the first period, but unfortunately would give up a few too many high-quality chances in the last 40 minutes of the game.
The second period saw the game open up, with both teams finding more of their legs and creating a few high-danger opportunities. The Steelheads in particular found some momentum, going into the third period with a 26-16 advantage in shots, though they were also on the wrong side of a 2-0 scoreboard.
Head coach James Richmond was content with his team’s play through 40 minutes, though he said they gave up a couple of bad goals.
“I thought we were pretty good for two periods and then it got away on us in the third,” said Richmond.
In the game’s final frame, the Rangers took control as the Steelheads lost their way. The top line of Francesco Pinelli, Francesco Arcuri and Matthew Sop was particularly dominant, with Pinelli leading the way with a goal and two assists in the game. Meanwhile, the Steelheads found themselves just five shots on goal in the period, thanks in part to going eight minutes without a shot towards the end of the period.
In a game with so many changes in momentum and pace, it is hard to take much away, but the Steelheads can be glad to have had stretches of strong defensive play and some offensive chances of their own.
Goaltending makes a difference
The first star of the game Sunday afternoon was Rangers goaltender Marco Constantini, who offered the Rangers 30 saves on 31 shots. With a quick glove and excellent positioning in the net to make the Steelheads’ chances as difficult as possible, Constantini stole the show. The Steelheads were not able to beat the third-year goaltender, who has allowed just two goals in his last three games after Sunday.
Steelheads goaltender Ryerson Leenders, meanwhile, will likely wish he could have a couple of the goals he allowed back, as Richmond said he thought the team gave up a couple of goals that should have been stopped. Still, the game should not fall on the shoulders of the 16-year-old goaltender, who made 23 saves, including a couple of great glove saves on odd-man rushes in the second period.
The Steelheads will hope Leenders can improve his play even more than he has over the course of the season so far, as they will be without Alessio Beglieri while he plays with team Switzerland at the world juniors. Beglieri last played for the Steelheads on Dec. 3 in Erie, a game he left with an injury.
Richmond said the team will see where Beglieri’s health is at when he comes back from the world juniors tournament.
Lucas Karmiris scores first career goal
One player that the Steelheads have seen some great improvement from over the course of the season is Lucas Karmiris, who they drafted in the first round of the 2022 OHL Draft. The sixteen-year-old had his efforts rewarded Sunday, scoring his first goal as a Steelhead on a rebound opportunity halfway through the third period.
Richmond said it had been weighing on Karmiris that he had not scored yet, especially as a player that scored a lot throughout his time in minor hockey.
“It’s a tough league to play in. He found that out for the first half of the season here,” Richmond said. “[It’s] great to see him get one.”
The goal was only Karmiris’ third point of the season, but he has been an important piece in the last couple of weeks. The Brantford, Ont., native has slid into more prominent roles in the lineup with players like Owen Beck out of the lineup and the trade of Zakary Lavoie to the Niagara Ice Dogs.
Sunday, in addition to the goal, Karmiris contributed at both ends of the ice, taking four shots (only Kai Schwindt had more for the Steelheads with five) and making his mark defensively with takeaways and blocked shots.
Richmond said Karmiris has been “doing a lot better things” since he came back from playing with Team Canada Black at the international under-17 tournament and that he plans to keep giving him opportunities to improve his game.
“He’s a 16-year-old,” Richmond said. “So just let him play, let him get through it.”
Brice Cooke making his mark all over the ice
Another member of the Steelheads’ third line was noticeable Sunday afternoon: Brice Cooke. Though he only has three goals to show for it, Cooke has been a contributor on both sides of the puck for the Steelheads in the 30 games he has played.
On Sunday, one of Cooke’s big moments was a hit on Rangers forward Jesse Fishman that generated a roar from the crowd as well as the Rangers’ bench. Though he was assessed a penalty, the play was a reflection of Cooke’s contributions away from the puck.
The Orangeville, Ont., native also had three shots in the game, though his noteworthy presence as a forechecker made it look like more.
Richmond said the addition of Cooke got lost a bit in the off-season and early part of the season, but he has been playing well lately.
“He's starting to get it. He's starting to move his feet a little bit more. And he looks better right now,” he said.
Steelheads head into holiday break with 14-14-3-0 record
The months of November and December were difficult for the Steelheads, who hold a 5-12-1 record since Nov. 5.
The 5-1 loss to the Rangers, a team with a similar record to their own (the Rangers are 15-13-0-0, though they have won their last six games in a row), was thus undoubtedly a tough one. Still, Richmond was positive after the game.
He said the focus coming out of Sunday is to enjoy the Holiday break and be ready to bounce back after it.
“Have a great Christmas, recharge the battery and come back ready to win,” Richmond said.
The Steelheads will hope some time at home with their families will allow them to reset and come back hot. Their next game is Dec. 29 in Peterborough, which will kick off a stretch of three games in four days, capped off by a matchup with the Hamilton Bulldogs at Paramount Fine Foods Centre on New Year’s Eve.