By Mitchell Fox
The second of three games this weekend did not go as planned for the Mississauga Steelheads, who fell 4-2 against the Peterborough Petes on Saturday.
Less than 24 hours after a 3-2 loss to the Oshawa Generals, the Steelheads came out with a stronger performance, but a similar result due to many of the same struggles.
The loss means Mississauga sits seventh in the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Eastern Conference with 68 points. With just one game to go, the trout are one point behind the Sudbury Wolves for 6th, meaning a Wolves victory cements a Steelheads matchup with the North Bay Battalion in round one, while a Wolves loss and Steelheads victory (against those very Battalion) would likely mean they face the Barrie Colts.
Here are some takeaways from some Saturday afternoon fanfare at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
Steelheads need to start on time
After 19 seconds made all of the difference on Friday, it was 25 seconds that set the tone of the game for the Steelheads on Saturday. Eight seconds into the first period, Connor Lockhart beat Alessio Beglieri with a hefty shot off the rush, kicking off a good night for the 20-year-old and his team.
A short time later, before the puck had crossed the Petes’ blue line, the Steelheads took a penalty, with Charlie Callaghan going off for two minutes for a check from behind. They would kill the penalty, but the early woes would be a sign for the Steelheads, who would not record their first shot of the game until the 4:47 mark of the period (though fortunately for them, that shot would find the back of the net, as Kai Schwindt made it a 1-1 game).
The Steelheads did bounce back from there, creating chances both on the rush and by setting up the cycle in the offensive zone, while also keeping a dynamic Petes offence relatively quiet. Head coach James Richmond said after the game that he was pretty happy with the effort.
“That's junior hockey,” Richmond said of the tough start. “Kids make mistakes and you move on from it. So we did. We got back in the game.”
“I didn't like the result, but there's a lot of good things in that game,” he added.
The Petes’ offence, which Richmond called “high-powered,” showed their strength as they have all season against Mississauga. The season series finished 4-0 in favour of Peterborough, with the total scoreline at 19-8.
Though a loss and a lower playoff seeding is unfavourable for the Steelheads, perhaps there is a silver lining in avoiding the Petes in the first round.
Kai Schwindt breaks goal drought
Kai Schwindt scored the first goal for the Steelheads, breaking a tough stretch of games for the Florida Panthers prospect. It was his first goal and second point since Feb. 10, a stretch of 16 games for the 19-year-old.
Richmond said it was nice for Schwindt finally get back on the board.
“We were on him about shooting the puck and he finally shot it, and he got a goal,” Richmond said. “Good to see.”
Schwindt’s scoring slump was a microcosm of a bit of a quiet stretch for the Steelheads’ depth forwards, perhaps with the exception of Lucas Karmiris.
Justin DeZoete has not scored in 12 games, and has just one assist in the time since, while Brice Cooke and Jack Van Volsen each have four points in their last 16 games. Mason Zebeski has four points in his last 19 games, though he had assists in back-to-back games last week.
DeZoete, Cooke and Zebeski have mostly played depth roles and provide strong two-way play and forechecking for the trout, but they will undoubtedly hope for some more depth scoring in the playoffs, when they take on tough offensive teams like the Petes.
“We're looking for a lot more depth… effort,” Richmond said with a pause. “Going forward we need more effort to win hockey games.”
Powerplay woes continue to hurt the Steelheads
It seems to be a takeaway every game of late, but the Steelheads continued to struggle with the man advantage on Saturday. An 0/6 performance on the powerplay in the game matched Friday’s struggles, resulting in an 0/12 stretch for the weekend so far. It has now been 11 periods of hockey since the team has scored in that situation (their last came in the first period against the Erie Otters on March 17).
The Steelheads’ play at five-on-five on Saturday was better than Friday night against the Oshawa Generals, but an unquestionably strong Petes offence is a hard one to keep up with, especially if you do not make the best out of the times many of their best players are not on the ice.
The Steelheads’ penalty kill, however, was much stronger on Saturday, making few mistakes as they kept the Petes away from the front of the net and let Beglieri see (and stop) whatever did come his way.
Richmond has spoken plenty about the special teams of late, so he was brief this time around.
“Penalty killing was really good. Power Play wasn't so good,” he said. “We got a lot of looks on the powerplay, but we've got to bear down.”
Angus MacDonell leaves the game with illness
The Steelheads opted to play with seven defencemen on Saturday, as Stevie Leskovar took Quinn Binnie’s place from the night before to play against his former team. While this was not too unique of a move for Richmond, it did prove impactful when they found their bench a little shorter.
Richmond confirmed after the game that Angus MacDonell left the game in the first period as he was feeling sick. Richmond did not say anything about what might be expected for MacDonell on Sunday, but he was not concerned.
“He's sick, sick,” Richmond confirmed. “Unfortunately, that's what usually works. You know, tonight, I went 11 and seven, and we lost a forward early and then we’re down to 10 forwards.”
The team provided Richmond with plenty to be happy about, but the Petes were too strong of a team to play with limited depth on offence. The Steelheads do not have the star power of the teams at the top of the OHL, but they seem to find a way to compete, as they did on Saturday.
“We battled through it, but that's a high, high-end team,” he said. “So we were behind them all game.”
Steelheads congratulate overage players on Fan Appreciation Night
For their last home game of the 2022-23 OHL regular season, the Steelheads held Fan Appreciation night as well as a send-off for their overage players set to move on after the season ends.
James Hardie, Charlie Callaghan and Kasper Larsen were not playing in their last game as Steelheads quite yet, as there are still playoffs to come, but it is yet to be seen how many more games they will have at home or whether their season will end on the road. As such, the Steelheads held a pre-game ceremony featuring their families and billet families on the red carpet and a touching video tribute for each player with clips from teammates, coaches and former teammates.
Richmond said it was awesome to see the three veterans celebrated.
“It's bittersweet,” he said. “You know, you hate seeing them ago, but you're pretty proud of them for what they've accomplished and how they've grown us as young men and players.”
Richmond singled out Callaghan as having a strong game on Saturday. “Chucky had a hell of a game,” he summarized.
The defenceman did not get on the scoreboard, but he was his usual physical presence and seemed to never make a mistake in transition. Hardie, meanwhile, scored his 38th goal of the season for his 82nd point, solidifying his franchise record in goals at 128 and points at 244.
All three players will undoubtedly go down in the Steelheads’ history books, while also making their mark as fan favourites.