By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads cruised their way to their fourth win of the 2023-24 season on Sunday, putting on a show in a 6-1 victory over the Brantford Bulldogs.
The Thanksgiving matinee was an absolute show for fans in attendance, with a number of flashy goals and impressive saves keeping the energy going from puck drop to final buzzer.
Four Steelheads finished with multiple points as the team buried the Bulldogs, especially in the third period where they outshot Brantford 18-3. They now carry a 4-1 record through five games, an impressive start for the team and many of its star players.
Here are some takeaways from a game to remember in Mississauga.
Steelheads and Bulldogs have lots in common
The game was the first of six matchups between the Steelheads and Bulldogs this season, their first battle since Dec. 31, 2022.
After selling off a number of star players at the trade deadline last year, both teams started a process of re-tooling. The two teams looked very different on Sunday from that last meeting, with stars like Ethan Del Mastro, Owen Beck, Logan Morrison and Gavin White no longer around.
With new faces and new identities, both teams are looking to match or improve on middle-of-the-Eastern-Conference performances last year. The difference, with Sunday as an indication, might be their prospects of meeting those expectations. The Steelheads have started 2023-24 hot, while the Bulldogs look like they might still be figuring things out.
A key difference is Mississauga’s depth is already established. New faces, sophomores and veterans alike have earned their way onto a team that looks cohesive. Head coach and general manager James Richmond said all four forward lines on the team aim for a similar style of play, especially through the neutral zone.
On Sunday, the fourth line of William Eggleton, MacGregor Richmond and Justin DeZoete may not have played as much of a role in scoring goals but were effective at keeping the puck deep in the offensive zone.
“Our fourth line did a great job of keeping everything in front of them, and got a couple of scoring chances as well,” Richmond said.
The Steelheads also got impressive performances from the middle of their lineup. Zander Veccia’s speed and work ethic were on display in a two-assist performance, while Mason Zebeski and Lucas Karmiris each had a point and turned heads with their two-way play and penalty-killing.
Martone shines, skill stands out in a massive victory
The Steelheads did not just score goals on Sunday. They scored beautiful ones.
Chas Sharpe opened the scoring with a missile of a one-timer on the powerplay in the first period, setting the scene for an impressive showing.
The nicest goal of the game, without question, came from Porter Martone. His move through the legs of a defender and shot between his own legs created a possible goal-of-the-year contender.
Richmond was complimentary of the 2025-NHL Draft eligible prospect.
“The things that [Martone] can do are pretty special,” he added. “We all saw it there today.”
Martone’s was not the only pretty goal on Sunday though, as Luke Misa and Mason Zebeski made sure to get in on the action with sweet (short) breakaway goals of their own.
Misa used his patented speed as he cut to the net and buried a puck over David Egorov’s blocker, while Zebeski, a player the Steelheads will want to take on a bigger role in his second year, stuffed a nifty backhand over Egorov’s glove after receiving a pass from Chas Sharpe in the slot. Richmond was impressed by Zebeski’s slick move, calling it “pretty neat.”
“I think you'll see a few of those goals on the highlight reel, no question about it,” Richmond said.
Sharpe was thrilled, but not too surprised, by the skill the team showed on Sunday.
“That's just our team, right? Every night we’re trying to perform and we got enough skill to do that,” the captain said.
If the Steelheads can combine a sturdy defence core, bottom-six grit and the top-nine skill shown on Sunday, they could be a real force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
Ryerson Leenders continues a hot start to the season
Steelheads goaltender Ryerson Leenders entered Sunday with a .969 save percentage in three wins. He continued his hot start on Friday with 24 saves en route to a perfect record through two weeks of the season.
The sophomore got high praise from his coach after the game.
“I keep telling people, he's ready. He's ready to be that goalie,” said Richmond. “He's got great legs and his eyes are keeping up now. He looks great.”
Leenders took the starting job in the middle of last season and played in all of the Steelheads’ playoff games as a rookie, already showing flashes of a potential star in the making.
Leenders’ quick movement and reaction have remained to start this year, but his calm demeanour is even more evident. He seems to always be where he needs to be and to have his eye on the puck. Add in a lobster claw of a glove hand and Leenders has been one of the OHL’s best netminders through five games.
Richmond said young players often come into the OHL with the expectation to be perfect from the start, but there is a maturation process. A rookie player will work their way up over time, much as Leenders has already proven he can.
“They're teenagers, so you have to understand that they're gonna fall and skin their knees and you have to understand there's a process to it and be patient,” Richmond said.
“[Leenders is] working hard at his game, and I know [goaltending coach Chris Beckford-Tseu] is working hard with him,” he added. “You're just seeing the work that he's putting in come out in the games.”
Luke Misa looks like a star
Luke Misa was probably the best player on the ice on Sunday. In addition to a sweet goal to break a 1-1 tie in the second period, Misa’s speed and shot creation were off the charts.
A distinct difference in Misa’s game from last season is the amount of shots he is taking. Last year, especially with James Hardie on his wing, he passed the puck more often than he shot. So far this year, Misa seems more willing to make his way to open ice near the net and take shots.
Misa said he felt it comes down to getting more chances and just taking them.
“It's kind of a bit of a, I wouldn't say a confidence thing, but just continuing to shoot the puck,” he said. “You see some of them go in and you keep shooting it. So that's what I've been doing so far.”
Misa's goal on Sunday was an example of his greatest asset: his speed in transition. When Sharpe freed up the puck with a hit on the boards, the Steelheads had space to get the puck to Misa, who drove to the front of the net and snapped a quick shot passed Egorov. No one could touch him as he flew in from the blue line.
Misa now has six points in five games, including three goals. In his third season on the team, he is blossoming.
Misa said coming in a bit physically stronger has helped his game a lot, but he also praised his linemates, Martone and Angus MacDonell.
“They're helping out a lot,” said Misa. “We've clicked pretty well so far.”
The next thing for the Steelheads will be figuring out if they keep Misa on the wing alongside the other two stars, or play him at center. Playing on the wing allows him to use his speed on the wall and focus more on offence, but his speed and effective two-way game make him a potentially important piece up the middle.
Chas Sharpe leads the way on the blue line
New Steelheads captain Chas Sharpe has been an important piece to their hot start. Sharpe has three goals and an assist in five games and has been a steady defensive presence, providing strength and efficient stick work.
Misa praised Sharpe’s leadership skills and hot start to the season.
“He's a great leader, a great player, and he's helped out a lot of the younger guys too,” he said. “We're looking to him [for] a lot of good defensive plays, but also some offence.”
Sharpe is part of a defence core that is building something of a new identity. The Steelheads have a lot of physical presence on the back end, providing a blockade for Leenders and Jack Ivankovic to do their thing in goal and helping the forwards focus on scoring goals. Sharpe and Stevie Leskovar break teams down with crushing hits, Luke Dragusica provides a spirited rookie mentality at 6’1” and Parker von Richter, Jakub Fibigr and Finn Harding all act as steady defensive presences with strong sticks and the ability to use the body when needed.
Sharpe says having those physical presences on the blue line is important to what the team is doing.
“Teams never like to play against big, physical, mean defenseman and I think we’ve got a lot of guys that can do that,” he said. “Then we’ve got a lot of guys who can play on the other side of the puck as well.”
The Steelheads have allowed just eight goals in five games.
Next up for Mississauga is a road matchup with the Guelph Storm on Friday before they return home to play the Saginaw Spirit on Saturday. They will look to improve their impressive winning record with continued scoring in spades, stout defence and incredible goaltending.