By Mitchell Fox
The final game of 2022 for the Mississauga Steelheads brought all the fanfare of a great hockey game, but not the result the trout would have liked. They fell 5-3 to the Hamilton Bulldogs, giving them a win and two losses in three games since the holiday break.
The game was the second in a home-and-home between the two teams. After the Steelheads overtime win on Friday and Saturday’s loss, the Steelheads find themselves one point behind the Bulldogs in the standings as the calendar turns to 2023.
There is a lot for the Steelheads to look forward to and work towards in the new year, but for now here are some takeaways from a fantastic game at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
No love between the Steelheads and Bulldogs on New Year’s Eve
The first period featured much of the action a fan could ask for, except of course any pucks in the back of the net.
The first example came less than five minutes into the game, when Parker von Richter was sent to the penalty box for roughing after he went after a Bulldogs player who landed a heavy hit on Luke Misa. The subsequent four-minute penalty would be a sign of more to come, as alongside 14 penalties, the game featured a large number of scrums after whistles. There was also a spirited fight between James Hardie and Cole Brown in the second period.
That these two teams – who see each other often and were opponents in last year’s playoffs – are rivals on the ice is no surprise. The teams have combined for at least 20 penalty minutes in five of their six matchups this season, including an 88-penalty-minute affair on Dec. 7.
Back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday were no exception. Both games were hard-fought, with the Bulldogs showing physical play to be an important part of their game, throwing lots of hits and using their body to disrupt plays on the boards. The Steelheads did not back down either, though the Bulldogs’ game-winning goal coming on the powerplay was likely not their intention.
Steelheads head coach James Richmond said remaining disciplined was something the team talked about before the game and will be talking about again.
“We can't be going to the box like that all the time,” he said.
As for fighting, Richmond said it’s not like he can pull a guy away from a fight from the bench.
“I’ve been there,” he said.
Overall, Richmond said he was happy with his team’s effort during the game and over the course of three games in three nights.
“I didn't like the outcomes of all the games, but I liked the weekend,” Richmond summed up.
MacGregor Richmond scores his first
The sixth Steelheads rookie to record his first career OHL goal was MacGregor Richmond, who scored the Steelheads’ first goal on Saturday.
The 16-year-old center is the son of Steelheads head coach and general manager James Richmond. Still, James says it is great to see any player on the team get their first goal and he treats them the same.
“He's a player for me. That's all he is when he's here,” the coach said of his son. “So he gets the ribbing. He gets told when he's making mistakes and he gets told when he's doing good things.”
James also said (with a big smile) he gave Macgregor “the gears” about his celebration, saying it “didn’t look like much of one.”
Macgregor said it was “surreal” to get the goal, especially with his mom and family from Halifax and Niagara Falls in the building to watch.
“If there's any game I could choose to do it, it would have been this one,” he said. “It was really special.”
Macgregor also said that he was hungry to score coming into the game, and it was evident. Early in the game, he had an end-to-end rush that resulted in a chance, and from then on it was clear he was playing with a unique level of energy.
The next step for the 16-year-old is to earn himself even more opportunities, which will come with time, especially as members of the team move on at the end of the season.
“I've been around the team for a while now. To actually get to play in the games is pretty cool,” he said. “So [I] just keep working hard and gradually get myself up the lineup to full-time and then up the lineup when I get older.”
Steelheads bottom 6 shows up for tough battle with Bulldogs
Richmond’s goal was also a part of a strong performance for the Steelheads’ bottom six forwards overall.
The Steelheads’ depth forwards feature a variety of different talents. On Saturday, these were all visible, with the forechecking role of the third and fourth line in the first two periods standing out in the physical play of Quinn Binnie, Brice Cooke and Mason Zebeski in particular.
James Richmond said his young players in the bottom portion of the lineup need play “even."
“They can't be a minus when they're on the ice, or else they're not helping us,” he said.
The Steelheads coach was also complimentary of the play of the team’s young players over the course of the season, as they have had seven 16-year-olds appear this season.
Richmond said Parker von Richter has “obviously” looked really good this season, Lucas Karmiris has taken big strides over the course of the year and Eggleton, Richmond and Liam Spencer have “looked real good” when they have gotten into the lineup.
Goaltenders deserve a mention after eventful game
One of the young Steelheads who stood out on Saturday is goaltender Ryerson Leenders. Though he allowed four goals, the netminder was more than solid, making 31 saves, including some highlight-reel saves with both his pads and glove (one in particular in the first period got an eruption from the crowd).
Richmond said Leenders is “maybe the top 16-year-old in the league in net.”
Unfortunately for the home squad, their opponent’s goaltender was also a key factor in the game. Tristan Malboeuf made 40 saves on 43 shots, including a number of high-danger opportunities for the Steelheads. Like Leenders, his ability to cover the bottom half of the net and to direct rebounds away from danger were notable, though a difference comes in that he plays a slightly more relaxed game than the young Steelheads goalie.
The only clear error by Malboeuf on Saturday came on Richmond’s goal, as he gave the puck away behind his net and could not recover in time. Nevertheless, that was probably the only occasion in the game that anyone could consider blaming a goaltender.
World juniors take a chunk out of Steelheads
A notable omission from Saturday’s game was Steelheads’ captain Ethan Del Mastro, who was busy helping team Canada to a victory over Sweden at the World Juniors on Saturday evening.
The Steelheads’ star has played a key role on Canada’s top defensive pairing for much of the tournament, posting two assists in four games so far and providing his usual strong performance as a shut-down defenceman. He is also an alternate captain with the team.
Alessio Beglieri, meanwhile, is playing for team Switzerland at the tournament. The Steelheads’ goaltender has played one game so far, allowing five goals in what was a very challenging game against the United States.
It was a good sign for the Steelheads that Beglieri played the game and looked fairly good doing it, as his last appearance for the trout ended with him leaving the ice with an injury.
The Steelheads will have to wait a bit longer for their captain and goaltender to return, however, as Del Mastro and Beglieri will not be available until January 8.
UPDATE: It was announced on January 1 that Owen Beck will join team Canada as a replacement for Colton Dach, who is out with an injury. Beck, the Steelheads’ leading scorer, will play the rest of the tournament and be unavailable to the Steelheads for the next week or so.
The Steelheads first game of the new year comes Tuesday on the road against the Oshawa Generals, who sit ninth in the Eastern Conference after a 7-3 loss to the North Bay Battalion on Saturday.