Some shuffling in the lineup took a game or so to settle in as the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves registered a pair of much-closer-than-expected victories at home over the weekend.
The Jan. 12 result was particularly eye-catching as Kirkland Lake Legion 87's netminder Aaron Fournel limited the Nickel Capital Wolves to just a single goal in a 1-0 loss to Sudbury.
That might not seem that surprising until one considers that Kirkland Lake currently sports a record of 1-28-0 and is averaging more than eight and a half goals against per game.
In fact, since posting a 5-3 upset win over Kapuskasing back on Sept. 15, the Legion 87's have not lost a game by less than three goals (until Jan. 12), surrendering double digits 11 different times.
Thankfully for Sudbury head coach Peter Michelutti Jr, a first-period power-play goal by Eric Paquette would stand as the game-winner, with goaltender Andrew Lefebvre making a key save in the final minute of play to preserve his shutout.
Things were following a similar trend on Jan. 13 as the Nickel Capital Wolves held a slim 2-1 lead over the Timmins Majors after 40 minutes of play, despite outshooting the visitors by a sizeable margin.
But veteran forward Charlie Venedam connected twice in the opening six minutes of the final frame, allowing the locals to post a 4-1 win.
“For our line, we just got (Josh) Moore back, so we kind of have our line back from last year,” Venedam explained after the game.
Both Moore and defenceman Scott Sirkka were summoned from the Sudbury Nickel Barons of the NOJHL, with the Sudbury midgets trying to cope with a number of injuries on the blue-line and the recent departure of forward Andrew Dodge.
“I think it took us a game to get going,” Venedam continued. “Overall, I think we're just kind of catching our groove.”
Michael Laidley and Dylan Callaghan scored in the middle stanza for Sudbury after Tyler Romain provided the visitors a first-period lead, converting with the man advantage.
Despite sitting in second place behind the Soo North Stars, the Nickel Capital Wolves average less goals per game than the fifth-place North Bay Trappers.
Reuniting Moore and Venedam, who have played as linemates since their peewee days, should help challenge that stat to some extent.
“Every time we're on the ice, we know where the other guy will be,” Venedam said. “Moore is a playmaker and I'm always ready to shoot.”
Still, to a man, the Sudbury players understand that getting into fire-wagon hockey is not the recipe to success for the 2012-13 edition of the Nickel Capital Wolves.
“We're going to have to win games against the Soo or Kapuskasing 2-1, 1-0, 3-2 — it's not going to be a 7-6 game or anything like that,” said Venedam.
Timmins, meanwhile, remains in a race of their own, right in the middle of the pack.
The Nickel City Sons (28 pts), North Bay (27) and Timmins (27) are all vying for fourth place and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. To boot, whoever finishes sixth must play one of the top three, seemingly Kapuskasing at this point.
For coach Kevin Osmars and the Majors, the situation is not unexpected.
“At the beginning of the year, we thought we were going to play .500 hockey.
That's what we were hoping for,” said Osmars.
At 13-14-0-1, Osmars and company pegged their team dead on. Wins will be crucial over the final three weeks of league play, with Timmins still trying to work out some kinks in their game.
“Right now, we're having a hard time controlling the puck,” Osmars said. “Finding the chemistry to get that puck moving again, back and forth.”
That situation was made a touch more challenging over the holidays when the team's second leading scorer, Austin Boulard, was allowed to sign with the Oshawa Generals, appearing in a pair of recent OHL games.
The decision to endorse the promotion of Boulard was critical to the establishment of a first-rate hockey program, according to Osmars.
“I think we started, this year, getting the message out that we are here to promote kids,” he said. “If someone wants one of our kids early in the year, we're willing to let them move up.”
Bouncing back from a 2010-20111 campaign that would see the Timmins franchise record just a single win all year, the mindset appears to be paying dividends for the Majors, looking at back-to-back middle-of-the-pack finishes.