The Sudbury Wolves have always been a team that has been overlooked by most in the OHL.
Sudbury, Ontario is located Northeast of Lake Huron. It’s closer to The Soo Locks (Sault Ste. Marie) than the GTA. Location has made it difficult for the franchise to attract top talent such as fellow clubs in London, Kitchener, Oshawa, etc.
Sudbury has only earned two division championships since joining the league back in 1972. Since their last Central Division title in 2001, the Wolves have only had four winning seasons. However, this year, things seem to be looking up for the Wolves. As of November 26, Sudbury sits atop of the Central, and second in the Eastern Conference. It makes me wonder, how have they turned it around?
New Head Coach
Head Coach, and two-time Stanley Cup champion, Cory Stillman has found a way to turn his team into an easy two-points for the opposition into a scrappy, and successful bunch. After being embarrassed by Barrie 10-3 in their third game of the season, the Wolves have picked up their play, both offensively and defensively. The Wolves are looking to win more than 20 games for only the second time since 2014. With a 15-8-1-1 start heading towards December, the Wolves are on pace blow past that mark.
The club’s scoring throughout the lineup has been huge through the first two and a half months. David Levin has really had a turn around season. After missing almost a third of the season last year with injury, the former first-overall pick in the OHL Priority Draft has 22 points through his first 25 games, just behind his 29 points he scored all last season. He’s projected to produce close to 60 points, which would be a career high. Nolan Hutcheson seems to have found his stride in his second season. The big winger from Kingston already has ten goals, with six assists in 23 games this season, greatly improving from only scoring 17 points all of last season. Rookie standout Quinton Byfield has shown why he was the #1 pick in this past summer’s priority draft. In 21 games, he’s averaging .71 points per game. The Newmarket native’s 15 points has him tied with Blake Murray and Shane Bulitka for third in team scoring.
It is not just the offense that has stepped up, the defense has vastly improved as well. Last season, only five players had a positive plus-minus. This year, only three players have minuses. In Sudbury’s first 25 games, they have held opponents to three goals or less in 16 times. They only achieved that feat 24 times last season. Not bad for a team that allowed the second-most goals a year ago.
Luukkonen Rock Solid In Net
Of course, a team’s success is nothing without a good goaltender, and the Wolves have had that this year in the play of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. In the Finnish net-minder’s first season, he has been outstanding for Sudbury. He has gone 13-5-1-1 in 20 starts this season. His 13 wins has him tied for the third in the league. His 2.65 GAA is eighth best in the ‘O’, while his .919 is tied with Michael DiPietro for fifth best. He has faced the fourth most shots (645) while making the third most saves (593). He has definitely been the Wolves MVP so far this season.
The Wolves are certainly one of the biggest surprises this season, and deservedly so. A team that has finished last twice in the last four seasons, and only made the playoffs twice since 2014. If this club can keep at the pace they are currently going at, they are going to be a tough and nasty team to play come late March.
stats from ontariohockeyleague.com