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First-game jitters abound as Wolves, Greyhounds open exhibition play

It was a game that wasn't necessarily pretty at times, but both coaches are taking it as a step forward ahead of regular season play kicking off later this month

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SAULT STE. MARIE — At the end of the day, both teams will look to build moving forward.

The exhibition season opened for the Soo Greyhounds and Sudbury Wolves in the Sault on Sunday afternoon and it’s ultimately an opportunity to see where things stand after training camp.

The end result was a 6-3 win for the Wolves, but both teams will be looking to build off the contest, which both coaches agreed was sloppy at times.

Greyhounds coach John Dean said he felt his team looked “timid” early on in the game.

“We also tried to do too much,” Dean added. “We didn’t move the puck efficiently at all. Sudbury came in (with) a really good forecheck, got on top of pucks and we were trying to overhandle the puck and they were trying to create 50-50 battles. It was really difficult on us in the first period.”

Dean added that the team was “more efficient with the puck” in the final 40 minutes.

“As the game went on we got better at moving the puck quicker, especially from the back end,” Dean said. “In the second period, our forwards did a really good job of hunting pucks and being on top of it. In the third period, we kinda combined the two. The D were a little more efficient, the forwards got on top of pucks, we scored a few goals and feel good about ourselves.”

With veterans Kirill Kudryavtsev and Andrew Gibson as well as import Arttu Karki out of the lineup on the blueline, Dean said “there’s opportunity for minutes there on the back end” slotted in with those three as regulars.

“I don’t think tonight pushed anybody ahead of anybody else,” Dean said. “It needs to be a lot better and more efficient, but at the same time, it’s game one. There’s probably a little more frustration this year because there’s a lot of returning guys that are getting some minutes, but it’s exhibition game one. We’re not going to overthink this.”

Wolves coach Ken MacKenzie called the game “an extension of our training camp.”

“Not a lot of structure to the game,” MacKenzie added while crediting goaltender Jakub Vondras, who “made some big saves early on and made some later on in the game.”

MacKenzie said the game in part was a way to help build confidence for players with a number of regulars out of the lineup.

“You don’t want to panic as a coach,” MacKenzie said. “Most of our guys, it’s their first game. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re all going to make mistakes, but you want to keep giving them their chances to come back and if anything, you want them to have some confidence. That’s what this is about is building their confidence.”

Sudbury opened the scoring with just under six minutes to go in the opening period as Ryan Pryce beat Greyhounds starter Charlie Schenkel from the top of the left faceoff circle high stick side on the power play.

Saultite Hudson Chitaroni extended the Wolves lead 2:19 later as he took a pass in tight from Owen Protz and beat Schenkel going to his backhand. The goal also came on the man advantage with Sudbury up two men.

Sudbury made it a 3-0 game three minutes into the second period as Saultite Devin Mauro beat Schenkel from the top of the left circle to extend the Wolves lead.

With 2:40 to go in the second period, Nicholas Yearwood made it a 4-0 game as he beat Landon Miller stick side from the slot.

The Greyhounds got on the board 77 seconds into the third period when Ethan Montroy beat Sudbury goaltender Jakub Vondras while cutting through the slot off the post and in stick side.

Sudbury made it a 5-1 game when Mason Chitaroni, brother of Hudson, beat Miller stick side from the left faceoff circle on the power play on a cross-ice pass from Nathan Villeneuve just over a minute later.

Montroy picked up his second of the night at 4:10 when he beat Vondras in tight on a rebound.

The Greyhounds pulled to within two when Travis Hayes beat Vondras from just inside the left faceoff circle at 7:17.

Chase Coughlan capped off the scoring with an empty-net marker with 48 seconds to go.

Owen Allard assisted on all three goals for the Greyhounds in the loss.

Schenkel made 15 saves for the Greyhounds before making way for Miller midway through the second period. Miller stopped seven of the nine shots he faced.

Protz and Villeneuve had two assists each for the Wolves in the victory while Vondras made 24 saves.

MacKenzie credited Hudson Chitaroni, drafted by the Wolves in the 2023 OHL draft.

“He’s every bit as good as I thought he was going to be,” MacKenzie said of the 2023 third rounder. “He showed a lot of poise tonight in everything he did.”

The Wolves also have Chitaroni’s older brother Mason in camp and MacKenzie said the latter’s experience in junior while playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has been an asset.

“This is a good opportunity for us. We’re down a couple defencemen to start off (and) his experience shows out there,” MacKenzie said. “He made some good decisions out there and just his overall skill of moving pucks up to our forwards, we really think the strength of our hockey club is going to be up front and you have to get the puck to those guys.”

Sudbury has one more exhibition game before the league preseason schedule breaks while NHL training camps kick off. The Wolves will face Peterborough at home on Sept. 8.

The Greyhounds are off until after the break when they are on the road to take on the Wolves on Sept. 20 before wrapping up the preseason with a weekend home-and-home against the Saginaw Spirit on Sept. 22 in Sault Ste. Marie and Sept. 23 in Saginaw.

With the break, Dean said the team will use the time to be “identity-focused” between games.

“We’ll talk about non-negotiables,” Dean added. “We’ll work our way out from D zone to tracking back and what our play looks like away from the puck and really challenge our guys to have a mentality of taking away time and space and being hard to play against. That will be a primary focus for us.”

The Greyhounds are slated to open regular season play on Sept. 29 at home against the Flint Firebirds.


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Brad Coccimiglio

About the Author: Brad Coccimiglio

A graduate of Loyalist College’s Sports Journalism program, Brad Coccimiglio’s work has appeared in The Hockey News as well as online at in addition to regular freelance work with SooToday before joining the team full time.
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