A win over a northern rival gave the Wolves and their fan base something that has been missing, meaningful hockey and a birth to the post season.
Who they will play and where they finish in the standings is still to be determined but what matters is they’re in.
In 10 days it will be three years to the date that the Wolves last played a playoff game, a 7-0 loss to the Barrie Colts which eliminated Sudbury from the 2014 postseason.
Since then a lot of players have come and gone, ownership has changed hands, there’s been a coaching change and a statue of Stompin’ Tom Connors was put outside the arena.
The lone player left from that roster is now the captain of the team, Kyle Capobianco and as the seconds ticked down Friday night, it was a special moment for him.
“It was awesome, it couldn’t go by fast enough,” said Capobianco.“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to and excited to see the crowd.”
The playoffs will mean a lot to the captain and veteran players like Michael Pezzetta who’s been through the lows, to put it lightly, in his two previous seasons with the Wolves.
But it will also be huge for the youth of this team, head coach Dave Matsos stressed the need for at least a round or two of playoffs this season, so the youth can get their feet wet before the franchise is ready for a serious run.
“The Owen Lalonde’s and the Bulitka’s and these guys, the Sokolov’s the Levin’s, these sort of experiences you have to go through in order to know how to persevere to the next one. Pez(Michael Pezzetta) being the leader he is he stood up in the room, voiced his past couple years and the opportunity he has as an 18-year old. Unless you go through these clutch games and the key moments and these feel good moments, how do you ever know. So this was a big one for us, moving forward this was a big one for us,” said Matsos.
Even though some will not be around, the vets knew how key it is as well.
“The games are only going to get bigger from here. We’re excited to do some damage in the playoffs, we just needed to get there and now we’re there. The young guys are going to get a lot of experience and that’s good for them moving forward,” said C.J. Yakimowicz.
The final seconds of Friday’s game was something special for Matsos as well, but more about the experience with his players.
“I had so much faith in these guys, you guys know how much I’ve enjoy coaching this team. I know what we are, and I like what we are. We get our stuff together, we’re not going to be a fun team to play in the playoffs,” said Matsos. “You can’t predict results, you don’t know bounces, there’s so many variables that come into winning. But I throughly enjoyed coaching this group of guys.”
Looking back, three additions have been very key for the Wolves, three overage players, C.J. Yakimowicz, Aiden Jamieson and Patrick Sanvido.
But those players were not brought in for the regular season, they were brought in because they have 77 combined playoff games in their career.
Yakimowicz and Jamieson have a Memorial Cup and they will play just as big of a role off the ice as they will on with two games left in the regular season.
The road to playoffs was not an easy one, on January 15th a shootout win over Mississauga put them in a tie with the Steelheads for first in the Central Division and pushing for the tops of the standings.
But from there the two teams went in opposite directions.
The Wolves took their licks, now face an uphill battle in the playoffs but that is more than okay with the team.
“No matter where we fall, we’re the underdogs so we’ll accept that,” said Matsos.
Their game Saturday night is important, very important in fact.
Niagara did not play on Friday which allowed Sudbury to move ahead of them in 7th in the Eastern Conference.
So the game Saturday night will effectively be for 7th place.
The Wolves are also just a point behind Ottawa for 6th in the East, Ottawa plays Oshawa Saturday afternoon and a win by the 67’s coupled with a loss by the Wolves would put 6th out of reach for Sudbury.
If the Wolves are able to win on Saturday night and Ottawa also wins on Saturday and Sunday, then it’s possible the Wolves and Steelheads would not have to play their final game of the regular season Tuesday, because the Wolves would finish 7th, Ottawa 6th and Mississauga has locked up 2nd so the game would have no effect on the standings.
If the Wolves lose on Saturday and Niagara wins Sunday, the Wolves finish 8th.
If they finish 8th they take on Peterborough, 7th they take on Mississauga and 6th they take on Oshawa.
Against Peterborough they are 0-3-1 and were outscored 15-10 although three of the four games were decided by one goal.
Against Mississauga they are 2-3 but were outscored 21-12.
Against Oshawa they are 2-2 and were outscored 13-12.
The much talked about Sudbury Arena will be guaranteed at least two playoff games, that is for sure.
From there it’s up to the Wolves to see how many games they can Pack into the schedule beyond the regular season.