By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads defeated the Oshawa Generals 3-2 Saturday in their third home game of the season, improving their season record to 5-1-0-0.
After the Generals opened the scoring less than 30 seconds into the game, the Steelheads found their way with powerplay goals from Luca Del bel Belluz and James Hardie.
The fourth and final goal of the first period - probably the game’s best highlight - came from the Generals’ Calum Ritchie. The second overall pick from the 2021 OHL draft grabbed a loose puck in the neutral zone and decided it was time to even up the game, driving the net and tucking the puck under the crossbar.
The Steelheads benefited from more open ice in the second period, but not on the scoreboard, as Generals goalie Carter Bickle shut the door.
In the third period, only one player would be able to find the back of the net: Steelheads captain Ethan Del Mastro. The Steelheads’ only tally at five-on-five came with less than four minutes left in the game and would prove to be just enough to walk away with the victory.
Here are some takeaways from a fun, hard-fought game in Mississauga Saturday afternoon.
Del Mastro leads the way
Del Mastro, the Steelheads captain and a Chicago Blackhawks prospect, was easily one of the stars of the show Saturday afternoon. Not only did Del Mastro score the game-winning goal with the game coming down to the wire, he added an assist and was a force at both ends of the ice.
Steelheads head coach James Richmond said Del Mastro will be a “big bear out there” for an NHL team in the future, saying the offence he brings in the OHL is a bonus on top of his defensive play.
“If he’s not the best defensive defenceman in Canada at his age, I don’t know who is,” Richmond said after the game. “He's an NHL caliber player. That's why he signed [with the Blackhawks].”
Del Mastro’s goal was no small deal either. After the 6-foot-4 defenceman managed to maintain puck possession despite falling to his knees, he knocked the puck off a Generals defenceman and found his way to the slot for a one-time pass from Jake Uberti.
Before the goal, it looked as though the Steelheads might be headed for their fourth overtime of the young season. Having gone to overtime Friday night and with a game again Sunday, Del Mastro said it was important not to waste energy with another extra frame.
Steelheads powerplay takes a bite out of Generals
Mississauga had little trouble taking advantage of their opportunities with the man advantage on Saturday, especially in the first period.
On both of their opening-period powerplays, the Steelheads managed to beat Carter Bickle in the first thirty seconds of the two minute advantage.
The Steelheads did not have the same fortune in the second or third periods, as they had some trouble creating the puck movement they had with the man advantage in the opening frame.
Richmond said it is important to have good special teams.
“Now that we get everybody back, kind of settled in, we keep working on it and adding things, taking things out, those kinds of things.” Richmond said. “It's a work in progress.”
Work-in-progress or not, two impressive powerplay goals played a key role in the victory over the Generals, especially as the Steelheads struggled to create many high-danger chances at five-on-five early in the game.
Goaltending remains solid, for and against Steelheads
Another clear takeaway from Saturday is yielded from the battle of the two players standing between the goal posts.
The Generals’ goalie, Carter Bickle, was impressive in his first start of the season as backup to Patrick Leaver. Bickle was especially solid in the second period, where he stopped all of the Steelheads’ 14 shots, including some high-danger chances. Bickle’s ability to contain rebounds was particularly noteworthy.
At the other end, Alessio Beglieri made a number of difficult saves to keep the game tied in the second period, then really put his stamp on things in the third, finishing off with a blocker save on Dylan Roobroeck with a little over three seconds left.
Richmond said Beglieri was really good and “held the fort” for the Steelheads.
Von Richter, Zebeski notable as rookies
While the Steelheads’ depth meant there were many players to pick out, two rookies stood out as factors with and without the puck: Mason Zebeski and Parker von Richter.
Though he did not add to the scoresheet, Mason Zebeski was hard to miss Saturday afternoon, bringing eye-catching energy and tenacity as a member of the all-rookie fourth line. Zebeski’s most notable assets might have been his heavy forechecking and desire to hit anything that moves, though he was also a regular feature in scrums with Generals players in front of Bickle. His contributions, which also included some offensive opportunities, may have been noticed too - Zebeski took an extra shift or two alongside Owen Beck in the third period.
Also noticeable was Parker von Richter, who is having a strong start to his inaugural season as a Steelhead, having scored his first career goal a week ago in Owen Sound. The Mississauga native did not add to the scoresheet Saturday but played a key role, shutting down Generals zone entries on a regular basis and making a few crisp stretch passes on the break-out.
Steelheads start 2022-23 strong
With the victories Friday and Saturday, the Steelheads find themselves sitting second in the OHL’s Eastern Conference behind only the undefeated Ottawa 67’s.
Del Mastro said the strong start to the season was expected.
“I think we came into the year knowing we're going to be a contender,” he said.
Del Mastro himself will likely be a big piece of the puzzle if the Steelheads hope to meet those expectations. The experience he brings from the world juniors and Chicago Blackhawks camp, paired with his play on the ice, make him a serious factor.
“You're just trying to learn as much as you can when you're at those events,” Del Mastro said.
Del Mastro added he hopes to bring back what he has learned to help some of the Steelheads’ younger players and instill a winning mentality.
While it is too early to say what that will yield as the season goes on, the Steelheads have to be happy with the early results of their lofty expectations.
The Steelheads are back at Paramount Fine Foods Centre again Sunday afternoon to take on the Sarnia Sting.