Up north in the OHL

December 21, 2021

Soo Greyhounds and North Bay Battalion are among the high achieving teams of the Ontario Hockey League ahead of the 2022 portion of the regular season slate. As for the OHL’s third team that is based in northeastern Ontario, the Sudbury Wolves have been a first half failure.

The Greyhounds are a Western Conference contender with 32 points from a record of 15-9-2 and mere fractions behind the pace-setting Guelph Storm and London Knights.

Meanwhile, over in the Eastern Conference, North Bay has 36 points from a record of 16-9-4 and is but a single digit back of the first place Kingston Frontenacs.

Sudbury? The lowly Wolves are a distant ninth in the 10-team Eastern market with just 17 points from a record of 8-13-1. And the Wolves have been trending downward with a 3-7-0 record over their past 10 games.

There has been much to cheer about in both the Soo and North Bay.

The Greyhounds boast scoring leaders Rory Kerins (14 goals, 30 assists, 44 points), Tye Kartye (23-11-34), Tanner Dickinson (12-21-33), Cole Mackay (10-19-29) and defensemen Robert Calisti (11-10-21), Ryan O’Rourke (3-16-19) and Kirill Kudryavsten (2-14-16).

As for the Battalion, goalie Joe Vrbetic — who is a National Hockey League prospect of the Montreal Canadiens — has been a standout with a record of 13-3-4 to go with a 2.78 goals against average and .903 save percentage. Scoring wise, San Jose Sharks draft pick Brandon Coe leads the Troops with 18 goals, 34 assists, 52 points, Edmonton Oilers prospect Matvey Petrov has already hit the 20 goal mark while Mitch Russell has netted 16 goals and Kyle Jackson has lit the lamp 15 times. Then there is prize defenseman — and future NHL draft pick — Ty Nelson with five goals, 20 assists, 25 points in 29 games.

Over to Sudbury, when Dario Zulich bought the Wolves in 2016, he predicted that they would become “the London Knights of Northern Ontario and a Memorial Cup contender within five years.” Well, it hasn’t quite gone that way for Zulich, his top hockey boss Rob Papineau, or the Wolves in general.

In four seasons at the helm — there was no OHL play in 2020-2021 because of COVID-19– the Zulich-Papineau led Wolves have had two winning seasons and are on their way to another losing record for the 2021-2022 campaign. Memorial Cup contenders? In their dreams. London Knights of the north? The Wolves aren’t even the Greyhounds or the Battalion of the north.

This edition of the Wolves, to be sure, has underachieved with first year head coach Craig Duncanson at the helm. Despite some high end talent led by star defenseman Jack Thompson (a top NHL prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning), standout forward Chase Stillman (a first round pick of the New Jersey Devils), and better than average goalie Mitchell Weeks, the Wolves have stumbled, bumbled and are penalty prone.

So, while it is a case of Happy OHL Holidays in the Soo and North Bay, it is anything but in Sudbury.

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