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Takeaways from Steelheads' first zero-point weekend of 2023-24

Saginaw Spirit players celebrate a goal in a group hug. A Mississauga Steelheads player's head is in the bottom corner
Screenshot from OHL via Twitter

By: Mitchell Fox


Nov. 3 - 6-5 L @ Saginaw Spirit

Nov. 4 - 5-1 L @ Flint Firebirds

A fateful weekend in Michigan is a little too reminiscent of a year ago for the Mississauga Steelheads.

The sky is far from falling for the Steelheads, whose 10-5 record is still enough to remain near the top of the OHL. However, starting November on a cold note is the wrong kind of familiar for fans in Mississauga, who saw their team start 2022-23 with a 7-1 record and fall down to Earth in striking fashion, ending November 11-8-3.

Last weekend, Porter Martone scored four and Jack Ivankovic stood strong in his last start before heading to the IIHF Under-17 Hockey Challenge as the Steelheads split a set of home games against the middle-of-the-pack Barrie Colts and Kingston Frontenacs. This week, with Ivankovic away and Martone held to one goal, the Steelheads fell to two West Division teams having underwhelming starts to the season.

Friday’s hard-fought 6-5 loss to the Saginaw Spirit was not nearly as demeaning as Saturday’s 5-1 thumping at the hands of the Flint Firebirds, but both results are ones head coach James Richmond and company will want back.

Here are some takeaways without access from a troublesome road trip for the Mississauga Steelheads.

Steelheads get caved-in twice in one weekend

Sometimes looking at the shot count to get a feel for a game is misleading, counter-intuitive or just plain useless. In this case, it is fairly indicative of how difficult the weekend was for the Steelheads and especially for Ryerson Leenders in goal.

Mississauga was outshot 83-52 across the two games, enough to make at least one loss a near certainty. 83 shots against is a sign of the team’s struggles with team defence all season, which is most evident when they are not able to control possession and momentum from the get-go.

Being outshot has been more common for Mississauga than perhaps expected for a team at the top of the standings. They have been outshot seven times, and tied in shots twice, in fifteen games.

Though score effects are a factor due to Mississauga holding a lead in the majority of their games, this could be something they want to rectify. The Steelheads play a style that allows a lot of low- to medium-quality shots against and their goaltenders are very important to their success, but giving opposing goaltenders just as much work as their own would help with some easier victories.

Steelheads need to start on time

A related trend this weekend was the way the Steelheads started out their games. Though they scored first on Friday, they were outshot 12-7 in the opening frame and their 2-0 lead was by no means secure against a high-powered Spirit squad. When Saturday’s matchup with Flint started out with a 22-9 shot count and a 2-0 lead for the home team after twenty minutes, it was a sign of a tough game for Mississauga.

Playing a back-to-back on the road, especially with Leenders playing 24 hours after facing 40 shots, is difficult. But the Firebirds and their goaltender, Nathan Day, were playing for the second day in a row as well, following a 4-3 shootout loss to the Erie Otters on Friday. Aside from being on road ice, the Steelheads started out on even ground on Saturday. They proved to be the team less ready to go.

The Steelheads’ biggest struggle throughout the season has been in the second period – where they have been outshot 10 times and allowed three goals in 1:37 on Friday night – but the significance of starting early is clear for Mississauga. They have lost four of five games when allowing the first goal and Friday was the first time they lost a game after scoring first.

With a bit of a break before Friday’s home matchup against the Barrie Colts, the Steelheads will likely prepare themselves with a mindset to win the game early and definitively in order to avoid falling out of the top tier of the league in November the way they did last season.

Five minutes prove enough to sink the Steelheads

A five-minute stretch in the middle of the second period crushed the Steelheads on Friday. With a two-goal lead in their hands, a penalty to Marc Boudreau sent the Steelheads to their first penalty kill of the night. Penalty troubles would finally catch up with the league’s leading team in penalty minutes and the game would go downhill from there.

Late in the Saginaw powerplay, a rebound off Leenders’ pad bounced out to a player no team wants to leave open, Michael Misa. That would ignite not only a Spirit comeback but a domination in the middle frame that would carry into the early portion of the third period.

Just 40 seconds after Misa’s goal, the Steelheads suffered another lapse in front of their own net, as Sebastien Gervais went untouched and had enough room to get a shot off and beat a moving Leenders. 57 seconds after that, PJ Forgione scored to finish off a four-on-two rush for the Spirit, another sign of the Steelheads’ defensive posture crumbling during that stretch.

In the clip above, the back-checkers do not enter the screen until the puck is going into the net. This highlights another case of the Steelheads’ struggles with team defence. The defenders are caught chasing the wrong player and there is no one to back them up.

Though Jack Van Volsen tied the game up a short time after Forgione’s goal, Misa’s second goal 1:21 after that would put the Spirit back on top. Another Van Volsen goal in the last minute of the period looked like a potential game-changer but the game remained in the Spirit’s favour.

The Steelheads have struggled in second periods all season. The long change and getting caught on long shifts have been part of that, but penalty troubles and overall defensive breakdowns are more pressing red flags. On Friday, they were outshot 20-7 in the middle frame. On Saturday, it was 15-9 for the Firebirds. Combined, that’s 19 fewer chances to score than their opponents, 19 more shots for Leenders to stop and 19 plays that could have changed the course of the weekend.

Steelheads lose the Misa show

The last two times the Steelheads and Spirit met, Mississauga was prepared to see the battle of the Misa brothers on the closest thing to home ice for the Oakville, Ont., products. However, Michael Misa was injured and in the press box for both games. On Friday, though, fans in Saginaw were treated to the Misa show in almost all its glory.

Older brother Luke Misa had three assists and a +3 rating for the Steelheads as he continued a hot start to the season. His passing is a clear strength (he has 17 assists in 15 games), as was evident in three very different assists. He first picked up a loose puck and fed Porter Martone a quick pass to the front of the net, then made an intelligent play to reset the puck ahead of Angus MacDonell’s breakaway goal and finally assisted Van Volsen from behind the net. All three plays were illustrations of the importance of Luke’s vision to the Steelheads’ offence.

Luke also made an impact that did not show up on the scoresheet. Though he did not get an assist on the play, his relentlessness on the puck and playmaking ability along the boards were apparent ahead of Van Volsen’s second goal.

The stop-up, or “Gretzky curl,” Luke used on the boards early in the clip also played into Van Volsen’s first goal. His skating and agility are undoubtedly part of why he is a projected second- or third-round talent in this year’s NHL Draft.

Michael, the younger of the Misa brothers and a 2025 NHL Draft-eligible prospect, got the upper hand on his brother on Friday, taking the first star of the game and seeing his team walk away with a victory. His two goals a little over four minutes apart in the second period turned the tide of the game as part of a dominant twenty minutes for the Spirit.

MacDonell, Van Volsen and Karmiris have up-and-down weekends

So far this season, the Steelheads have mostly had no issue scoring goals and getting contributions from all over their lineup. Still, there are a handful of players who have looked like they have more in them than they have shown in the last two weeks or so.

One of these players was Angus MacDonell. The Steelheads’ alternate captain has been a force in the faceoff circle all season and was one of the team’s best players in last Saturday’s victory over the Kingston Frontenacs but has had some tough games. Richmond said he spoke to MacDonell before that game after a down game against the Barrie Colts the night before.

MacDonell essentially had an opposite weekend in Michigan. On Friday, he scored twice, including this breakaway tally (also, check out the nifty behind-the-back pass by Luke Misa and the stretch pass by Parker von Richter to make it all happen).

MacDonell also won 15 of 29 faceoffs he took in the game and finished with a +3 rating, two good feats against a team with Hunter Haight and Matyas Sapovaliv at the dot and in a loss. On Saturday, however, MacDonell won just 8 of 21 faceoffs and finished with a -2. These are not crucial stats, but when MacDonell is at his best, so are the Steelheads.

MacDonell also had a roughing penalty in each game. While Friday’s penalty was killed and Saturday’s did not result in an opposing powerplay, the Steelheads will want MacDonell’s penalties to come back to last year’s levels – with 29 penalty minutes in 14 games this season, he is at a third of last year’s 92 in about a quarter of the games played – and propel his point-per-game pace even further.

Another Steelhead’s performance near-mimicked MacDonell’s. Jack Van Volsen had two goals and a +1 rating and won 9 of 19 faceoffs on Friday, then was held off the board and won just 9 of 24 faceoffs on Saturday. If the draft-eligible forward can fish chances like he did on Friday, he could make the mark Mississauga would love to see this year. The former sixth-overall OHL Draft pick has seven points in 15 games, with points in just four (the other three were Steelheads wins).

A last player worth mentioning is another center/wing hybrid, Lucas Karmiris. The 13th pick from the 2022 OHL Draft also has seven points, though spread across six games (interestingly, once again, the other five were wins for Mississauga). On Friday, Karmiris was a -2 and won just 5 of 12 faceoffs while being held off the scoresheet, including zero shots. In something of a bounce-back performance, though, Karmiris scored the Steelheads’ lone goal on Saturday, a nifty deflection.

Karmiris also had four shots (his second-highest count in 2023-24) and had double-digit faceoff wins for the first time this season with 11 on 17 attempts. For Karmiris to get his offence going while continuing to establish himself as a 180-foot player would be a huge plus for the Steelheads, who need all the depth they can get to keep their strong season going.

UP NEXT: The Steelheads take on the Barrie Colts at Paramount Fine Foods Centre on Friday, Nov. 10. Intermission Sports will have you covered.


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