By Darren Lum
It’s taken some time but the Haliburton Wolves are turning a corner said coach Josh Shaw following a 5-1 loss to the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League’s top North Division team Temiscaming Titans.
On Thursday the Wolves had three full lines of players and showed signs of progress and even had the Titans on the defensive after Ryan Salazar narrowed the deficit to 2-1 with his fourth goal of the season in the first period at the A.J. LaRue Arena.
The Wolves were skating well winning battles in the corners and finishing their checks. Former Red Hawks forward Stewart Chaulk garnered the greatest cheers as he hit several Titans’ players.
Shaw loved his team’s effort in the loss and thought his team was competitive for the early part of the game and the third period when neither team scored.
“They’re giving me everything they got. I can’t question their work ethic and heart. That’s what I want from them” he said.
He acknowledges his team is still going to need to stay out of the box against a strong squad like the Titans who got a pair with the man-advantage.
“We’ve got to stay out of the box against them because they have a good powerplay especially their five-on-three” he said.
TheTitans capitalized on powerplays and strung together three unanswered goals in the second period despite Wolves goalie Motoki Watanabe stopping 30 shots.
The fifth Titans goal was even-strength four-on-four.
The grit and toughness of his team is something fans can expect in the future Shaw said.
“That’s the team we’re building. We got three or four skill guys but we’re going to be a hard working gritty team. We’re going to hit” he said. “I’m not exactly thrilled with the fights tonight but … we’re going to be really nasty to play against and I’m going to tell you right now they’re definitely thinking twice of facing us again. When we went down there with eight players we lost [11-2]. They’re going to feel this game. They’re going to feel it on the way home. Both teams played hard. It was a rough game.”
Shaw was impressed with the effort by Norfolk Vikings players Connor Aleksic and Andres Roy and London Lakers player Lachlan McKenzie.
“I’m definitely happy to get some new boys in” he said referring to their grit and effort displayed in their first game.
The new players were traded for forward Ivan Tamaskovic who left the bench during the Wolves home game on Nov. 19. Tamaskovic is listed on the Vikings’ roster.
Things are coming slower than Shawanticipated before he took over.
“I’m disappointed in myself. It’s weird to say it but I honestly thought I could come in – not be a miracle worker – but maybe show a little more progress but at the same we only had 10 players. It’s hard to show progress. They’ll do everything right for two periods and then the third period they’re just too tired to think let alone do what you want them to do” he said.
Just before the three recent additions the team added local Braydin Hollows a forward.
Shaw appreciates how he has fit in and filled a role.
“He’s the agitator. He’s the one that gets under everybody’s skin. He’ll score one every 10 games or whatever and he just [plays] his role” he said.
Hollows has a pair of goals in the five games he has played.
Shaw took over a month ago and has just one win but has won the confidence of the team.
In that time the team culture has changed. There are less penalties after the whistle. The vibe is upbeat and there is optimism in the air.
This could all be short lived and wishful thinking but watching their latest home game things could have been different if a bounce here are there occurred. An amazing thought for a team with only 10 points to the 43 points of the Titans. On the ice you would have never known.
The Titans who beat the Wolves 11-2 in their last meeting when Haliburton had less than 10 skaters led the head-to-head matchup 4-0.
Wolves forward Tanner Hamilton who was ejected in the second period for fighting was honoured days before as the second captain in franchise history following Cole Rowden.
“I’ve always looked up to Cole. He’s the older kid. He was always the older kid with us so it’s an honour to be the captain. I just hope with new players we change it around” he said.
Rowden has been serving a multi-game suspension and is still on the team’s roster.
Hamilton credited the progress of the team with coach Shaw.
“The boys are starting to get happy here” he said.
Shaw didn’t hide his admiration for his Japanese goalie who earned the first star of the game.
“Motoki’s playing himself into a No. 1 role for sure” he said.
As of Friday Watanabe leads all goalies with 714 saves. The next closest is Bracebridge Blues goalie Artem Bortovskiy who has 169 saves less. Shaw who admits defensive coverage is an area that can be improved wants to cut down the shots against.
Watanabe kept the game’s score from resembling a football final score stopping 56 of 61 shots for a .918 save percentage including 33 in the second period.
The other stars were from the Titans. Captain Ryder Murray finished with four assists and the second star while teammate Jacob Goldverg turned aside 27 shots for the third star.
The Wolves are 5-20-0 after losing this weekend 6-3 to Seguin. They only had two minor penalties for four minutes in the game.
The Wolves will host the Bobcaygeon Storm this week on Thursday. In their only meeting back on Nov. 15 the Wolves beat the Storm 9-4.
Wolves notes: Defenceman Owen Flood goalie Elijah Shark and forward Bryan Sieber are no longer on the official roster.