BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
If the opening game of the Bell Challenge Cup proved one thing, it was the annual series for Northern Ontario bragging rights between the Sudbury Wolves and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds is going to be a long, hard-fought series.
On Friday night, at the Sudbury Arena, the two teams battled to a 3-3 draw.
The Greyhounds rolled into town with the worst record in the OHL, but were riding high with new head coach Craig Hartsburg at the helm.
The game was a tough, physical, tight-checking game from start to finish.
"It was a hard-fought game," said head coach Mike Foligno. "We had the lead three times. The discouraging part was that we gave it up three times in our building. They worked harder, and had one of their best games. (Craig) Hartsburg has made a difference over there. Obviously he has them channeled in the right direction.
"We didn't have as many guys on board as we normally have. It was disappointing because we had to cut the bench down. We will take the point, but we will not be happy about letting the other one go."
The boys wasted no time getting the Northern Ontario rivalry charged up.
Wolves' captain and Sudbury native Zack Stortini and Greyhounds' assistant captain and Soo native Jordan Smith dropped the gloves just five seconds into the game.
The two heavyweights threw a series of violent haymakers, before Stortini got Smith's jersey over his head and pummeled him with punches.
The Wolves opened the scoring when Jonathan D'Aversa made a nice play and swatted the puck into the net from the slot on the power play at 8:36 of the first period.
The lead held until early in the second frame.
Soo's Jeff Carter parked himself in front of Patrick Ehelechner, picked up a rebound and shoveled a backhand shot past the Wolves goaltender to tie the game at 2:36 on the power play.
The Wolves regained the lead, again on the power play, when D'Aversa unloaded a big shot from the point, that slipped through heavy traffic, and past goalie Kyle Gajewski at 9:06.
Once again, Carter would come to the rescue for the Hounds on the power play.
The slick centre jumped on another loose puck in the slot and popped it over Ehelechner to tie the game at 12:42.
The Wolves would counter before the period ended and again it was on the power play.
Stortini grabbed the puck by the Soo net and charged in hard from the side, slamming home the Wolves' third goal at 14:19.
The back and forth battle continued in the third period.
Soo's Tyler Kennedy broke free from the Wolves, while short-handed, chased down a loose puck, skated in on Ehelechner, and slipped a weak shot through the goalie's legs to tie the game at 5:24.
Overtime settled nothing.
The Wolves went 3-9 on the power play, while the Soo went 2-7.
Ehelechner stopped 33 shots, while Gajewski managed 37 saves.
The Wolves now sit fourth in the Central Division with a 6-5-2-1 record, good for 15 points.
The Wolves next game is Wednesday against the same Greyhounds in Sault Ste. Marie. Game time is 7 pm.
Their next home game is this Friday, against the Peterborough Petes. Game time is 7:30 pm.