By: Mitchell Fox
Fri., Oct. 27: 6-1 L VS Barrie Colts
Sat., Oct. 28: 4-2 W VS Kingston Frontenacs
A split weekend on home ice for the Mississauga Steelheads ended in a milestone Saturday, with the team becoming the first in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to reach 10 wins.
The Steelheads witnessed their first big disappointment of the season on Friday night, losing 6-1 against a Barrie Colts team that entered the weekend having lost their last four games. It was Mississauga’s first loss on home ice this season.
On Saturday, the Steelheads bounced back with stellar performances from players eligible for the 2025 NHL Draft. With a 30-save performance by Jack Ivankovic and a four-point night – and third-period hat trick – for Porter Martone, Mississauga improved their record to 10-3.
Head coach and general manager James Richmond said a young team like this year’s Steelheads squad will never be perfectly consistent but he was pretty happy with the result on Saturday.
“To bounce back after getting our butts kicked yesterday was a pretty good showing today,” Richmond said.
The Steelheads now remain at the top of the league’s standings and power rankings, while looking like they can compete for that position all season long.
Here are five takeaways from a weekend of disappointment and revival for the Steelheads and many of their players.
Porter Martone has a big birthday weekend
Four of the Steelheads’ five goals this weekend were scored by Porter Martone. The Peterborough product had his 17th birthday on Thursday and followed it up with some of his best hockey of the season so far.
After scoring the lone goal for the Steelheads against the Colts on Friday, Martone posted a four-point performance on Saturday, capped off with a third-period natural hat trick (though the third was scored on an empty net). He finished the weekend with 11 goals and 18 points through 13 games so far this season.
Martone has been on fire lately, posting points in his last six games and goals in his last four, including two hat tricks.
The former fifth-overall OHL Draft pick stands out among his peers not only because of his pure skill at a young age but his nearly complete package. His 6-foot-3 frame, nose for the puck, slick hands and powerful shot combine nicely, while he is also unafraid to get involved in a game physically.
Richmond said scoring great goals like he did late in the game on Saturday is what Martone does.
“He's a special player,” he said. “It's gonna be fun to watch his progression over this year, too.”
On Saturday, Martone was a noticeable presence from the drop of the puck but really came out flying in the third period. After a first shift spent mostly in their own zone, a stacked third-period line featuring Martone, Luke Misa and Angus MacDonell found more and more jump as the final frame went on.
Richmond’s decision to put the big three forwards together down by one worked out thanks in large part to Martone’s offensive performance and ability to draw from two other high-end players excelling at what they do best. His first goal came thanks to a quick passing play by MacDonell and Chas Sharpe, while his second was created by Misa’s speed along the wing and nifty playmaking skills to get the puck to the front of the net.
The one issue for Mississauga in regards to their youngest star is his play in his own zone. On Saturday, his line with Jack Van Volsen and either Marc Boudreau or Adam Zidlicky had trouble figuring things out in their own zone and on the break-out.
Goaltending proves vital, but can’t stand alone
If anything, Friday’s loss proved the Steelheads have to be careful not to rely too heavily on their goaltenders to carry them to a win. Ryerson Leenders was not at the level he has been at all season, but he was as good as he could be in a game where his team did not show up to their full potential and Beau Jelsma and Eduard Sale wreaked havoc for the Colts.
Saturday’s win, however, proved they can certainly continue to trust their goalies to come up big when they need them to.
Ivankovic was a definite factor in Saturday’s result. Along with making 30 saves, he played a big part in the Steelheads’ success on the penalty kill, punching out the Frontenacs’ attempts in close to the net and seemingly always able to beat a pass across the ice for a one-timer.
Richmond was eager to talk about his young goaltender, bringing him up before reporters could get to it.
“He was spectacular in net for us,” he said. “For that age, to be as good as he is, as calm as he is, it's pretty cool.”
Richmond said the team had scheduled the game for Ivankovic to play no matter how Leenders performed on Friday, as it was the Steelheads’ “responsibility” to prepare him for the IIHF World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
Ivankovic is travelling to Prince Edward Island to play for Team Canada White at the tournament, where he will be the only CHL goalie on the two Canadian teams.
Penalty trouble costing the Steelheads valuable momentum
Killing off 10 penalties in a weekend is a noteworthy accomplishment for any team. Taking 12 and getting only seven back is not, especially when it is a recurring problem. For the Steelheads, these are both relevant.
The Steelheads lead the OHL with 210 penalty minutes, 28 more than the team behind them (the Frontenacs, who took four penalties on Saturday). Some of these minutes have come from fights but the Steelheads have been shorthanded 70 times, while the team behind them sits at just 55.
The Steelheads’ penalty kill has been good, stifling some superpowered powerplay units with their ability to barricade the blue line and their aggressive style in their own zone. Nevertheless, even stopping 84.3% of these chances means the Steelheads have allowed 11 powerplay goals. Worse yet, being down a player for substantial portions of a period or game can be detrimental to possession and momentum.
That gamble could prove dangerous in due time. Taking a penalty during or just after another, as they did twice on Saturday, kills the momentum gained when they come up with a big kill and gives eager opposing powerplays another chance.
One fix could be keeping their best defensive players out of the penalty box. Angus MacDonell took three penalties over the weekend and sits at 25 penalty minutes for the season, tied with Marc Boudreau for second to Stevie Leskovar’s 27.
In addition to being the only Steelhead drafted to an NHL team and an alternate captain, MacDonell is their best player in the faceoff circle, winning 55.4% of his draws. The value of that skill at the dot on the penalty kill or just at five-on-five means MacDonell may need to stay out of the box for a couple of games to get his and the team’s play to their top potential.
Steelheads need to capitalize on speed on the blue line
With Misa's play on Martone's second goal as evidence, a key for this year’s Steelheads team to get into the win column has been and will be to get the speed of their game going.
Richmond noted driving with speed, as Misa did, backs defenders off and creates openings.
“If we play our game with pace and compete, we're gonna win a lot of hockey games. Because we’re a fast team,” Richmond added.
The team has a lot of dynamic and speedy forwards – most notably Misa, though Adam Zidlicky and Zander Veccia can fly along the wing – and very efficient puck-movers, including Martone and MacDonell. Importantly, this is aided by some serious puck-moving ability on the blue line.
Three of the Steelheads’ defencemen have stood out in this way. Jakub Fibigr and Finn Harding are more dynamic and have less physical presence than the team’s other defencemen, while Parker von Richter has some of both.
Alongside his ability to walk the blueline, Fibigr is a noteworthy skater out of his own zone and through the neutral zone. He is also surprisingly good as the last man back against a rush, positioning himself in the middle to get his stick in the way of dekes, passes and shots alike.
Richmond said the team knew Fibigr had a high hockey IQ and was “a high, high-end skater” when they picked him in the CHL Import Draft this past summer. Though he had a tough game on Friday, his coach said Fibigr did a better job of reading a play and jumping early to pinch on the blueline on Saturday.
“Last night he was a little bit hesitant. Today, he was back to getting going right away,” Richmond said on Saturday.
Harding, meanwhile, matches smart defensive stickwork with a speedy streak that stood out at times this weekend. Despite being on the losing side of a 6-1 game, he was awarded the third star of the game on Friday night and was the only Steelheads defenceman with an even rating in the game. On Saturday, he joined the rush on multiple occasions, including getting one of the Steelheads’ best chances in the second period, when Richmond said the team was “spinning their tires.”
Alongside Harding, von Richter’s ability to transition the puck up the ice with quick, clean passes is important to the Steeheads’ success. Richmond says Harding and von Richter are the types of players who will be great defenders and puck-movers – not offence-oriented speedsters like Cale Makar – if they make it professionally.
“We work on it every day to be a great transitioner of the puck,” Richmond said. “They're getting better and better.”
He also had high praise for von Richter lined up, comparing him to a former fan favourite in Mississauga, Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ethan Del Mastro.
“Von Richter, for his age, he's pretty darn good,” the Steelheads coach said, “I think he's the right-shot Del Mastro. That's who I think he is.”
That is some serious praise from a coach who had lots of great things to say about Del Mastro last year and has seen some great defenders come through his program. That praise was also received from NHL Central Scouting, who ranked von Richter and Fibigr as C-rated players and Harding as a W-rated player on their early Players to Watch list.
Defensive zone turnovers are an ongoing issue
Another issue for the Steelheads this weekend was turning the puck over. While their hard forecheck caused a lot of turnovers by the Frontenacs on Saturday, the same case went against them. At times on Saturday and certainly on Friday, they had trouble moving the puck up the ice, in part due to careless or predictable passes in their own zone.
The second period on Saturday saw the Steelheads unable to move the puck as they do at their best. Richmond said the team needed to move the puck to positions and to have players ready to go to those positions, not to be forcing perfect stick-to-stick passes.
“We were trying to do things that we don't practice,” he said, adding he talked to the team about focusing on what they know works during the second intermission.
Richmond loves to talk about the things his team works on in practice. With a couple of days off ahead of a trip across the border, expect the Steelheads to try to work out some kinks to make keeping their hot streak going a little easier than it was this weekend.
UP NEXT: The Steelheads head to Michigan to play the Saginaw Spirit and Flint Firebirds in each of their home rinks. They return to Paramount Fine Foods Centre to play the Barrie Colts again on Nov. 10.