Following a disappointing first-round playoff exit at the hands of the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Barrie Colts last season, the Sudbury Wolves are looking to regain the magic that lead them to the conference finals only four seasons ago. Last season, the Wolves finished in eight place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 26-35-4-3, very much a season they would like to forget.
As many enjoy the dog days of summer, true hockey fans know that OHL training camps are just under a month away. Moreover, the Sudbury Wolves will look to use an offseason filled with change to make a run at an OHL Championship and more important, a shot at the CHL Memorial Cup.
The 2010/2011 edition of the Sudbury Wolves will feature many new faces both on the ice and in the front office. With long time coach Mike Foligno stepping down from his post as the team’s general manager and head coach, there will be fresh staff in charge of leading the franchise this season. Blaine Smith, the Wolves team president, has taken over as the team’s GM. As his first act in his new position, he named Terry Cull as his new head coach. Cull had been serving as an assistant coach for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch.
“Trent Cull is a very bright young coach that knows the new game,” explained Smith. “I think he is a great motivator and our players are going to enjoy playing for him. I think he is a very good teacher, shows patience, and will be a great asset for our organization.”
After three consecutive subpar campaigns under Foligno, some new personnel might just be the answer heading into the 2010-2011 season.
Moreover, these changes will also be seen on the Wolves roster as well with eight players having played their last season with the club. Graduated players include forwards Jared Staal, Kain Alicock, Kyle Tarini, Steve Reese, Matias Sointu, Eric O’Dell, and captain John Kurtz, as well goaltenders Alain Valiquette and Andrew Loverock. However, the Wolves can allow three players born in 1990 to return to their roster and according to general manager Blaine Smith two of those spots may already be taken.
“We expect Alain Valiquette to return and possibly Eric O'Dell. O'Dell had surgery during the offseason and may not be ready to try out for the Atlanta Thrashers or the Chicago Wolves at training camp time. If such is the case, we have made it clear that we will hold an overage spot open for him.”
That leaves one spot left and that will be used on a “skilled forward.”
With so much change on the team’s roster, that should mean tremendous opportunity for prospects within the Wolves system to crack the 2010-11 opening night roster. The Wolves were able to land three excellent forward prospects to help fill the void on the offensive front.
They added centre Matthew Campagna from the Toronto Young Nats with their first-round selection. Then the Wolves added a pair of wingers with two second-round picks in New Liskeard native Brody Silk and Sam Schutt from the Ottawa Valley Titans. Smith believes that all three “have the ability to step into our line-up this season and contribute offensively.”
The Wolves also hope that US college prospect Robert Visca, whom they acquired from Saginaw, will fill another forward slot.
Blossoming on the Blueline
The major strength on this year’s Wolves team lies on defense with seven players eligible to return for another campaign. Big things will be expected from veteran defenders Daniel Maggio, Ben Chiarot, Nick Trecapelli and Josh Mcfadden. Sudbury will also be hoping for improved play from 2009 first-round selection Justin Sefton, fellow sophomore defender Frankie Corrado, and third-year player Jake Cardwell. With so much experience on the back end, much leadership will be expected to help make the Wolves into a contender in the Central Division.
Fresh Faces and Seasoned Veterans Up Front
One area in which some new players will have the opportunity to contribute is at the forward position. However, despite the loss of some key offensive components, the Wolves will still have the services of some veteran forwards as well. Of course this group will be lead by recent second-round (33rd overall) pick of the Florida Panthers, John McFarland.
He will be joined by skilled forward Marcus Foligno and possible overager Eric O’Dell, as the three will be depended upon heavily to lead a very youthful offensive group. Joining them will be a very young group of forwards including second-year players Eddy Rinke, Kyle Shaw, and Kristoff Kontos. They and the other returning forwards will be asked to contribute a majority of the offense and the play of this forward group will likely determine the fate of this season’s Wolves franchise. The assistance of 2010 draft picks Campagna, Schutt, and Silk should help to lighten the load on the forward group.
Between the Pipes
In what is arguably hockey’s most important position, the Wolves will benefit from the return of overage goaltender Alain Valiquette for a final OHL season. Valiquette has shown glimpses of greatness throughout his career with the Wolves and much the same will be expected from the fifth-year net minder after posting a career high 11 wins and a 3.86 GAA in 2009/2010. His experience should help support an already solid back end and put the Wolves in a position to win on a nightly basis.
With opening night of the regular season scheduled for September 24th against Niagara, what should fans expect from the Wolves this season?
Under new head coach Trent Cull, Blaine Smith explains that fans should expect to “see a team that believes in puck possession and control. The systems that will be used will allow our best players to shine and give our young players a chance to develop along side of our veteran players.”
As well, Smith believes that with players such as John Mcfarland, one of the best offensive players in the league, Alain Valiquette in goal, seven returning defensemen and some high end prospects acquired in the draft, “we expect to challenge for top spot in the central division.”
In terms of areas in which the team would like to improve this season, Smith hopes to see his club become one in which, “we become a team that nobody wants to play against.”
Through marketing and added entertainment at home games, he hopes to win back many fans that the team lost in recent years. Off-ice efforts continuing within the community include charity work and school visits.
Overall, fans should expect a great season from this year’s Sudbury Wolves team and should definitely make an effort to experience the team first hand as they will definitely appreciate your fan support.
When asked what would be a successful season, Smith added, “A successful season would be a team that wins a championship. Anything other than that is considered a disappointment.” One can only hope that this season will bring about success rather than failure.
Sudbury will be opening training camp toward the end of August. The Wolves then kick off their preseason on Sept. 10 at 7:00pm vs. Barrie, and then play on the road against the Barrie Colts and Soo Greyhounds before concluding the preseason on Sept. 17th against the Hounds. Sudbury opens the regular season on Friday, September 24th against the Niagara Ice Dogs with puck drop at 7:35. Come out and cheer on your Sudbury Wolves.
Also, for the complete interview with Wolves GM Trent Cull, and other Wolves info check out http://bumbacojournalism.webs.com/ or for other information on the OHL franchise, check out www.sudburywolves.com.