Wolf Tracks: challenges are opportunities too


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If you believe that challenges are opportunities, the Wolves of Sudbury are a lucky bunch.

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Already a young team trying to find their way through a tough league, Wolves were recently taken aback by a big blow from an invisible opponent. When they step back onto the ice on Dec. 16 in Barrie, that will end a more than two-week hiatus from the team’s operations, due to a dozen players testing positive for COVID-19.

The Ontario Hockey League announced this week that games the Wolves missed since their closure on November 30 will be made up for in the new year. All five – three at home and two on the road – will take place on Tuesday evening, starting with Sudbury which will host the Soo Greyhounds on January 4th. More makeup matches are scheduled for January 18, January 25, February 8, and March 1.

There’s no doubt that extra games stuck in an already busy junior schedule will be painful at times. The start of each week for juniors is usually a cool down given that the OHL is primarily a weekend league due to the age of its players. Dropping a Tuesday game into that space is going to leave a mark.

General manager Rob Papineau will have his hands full to ensure his Wolves have full roster at all times to avoid fatigue and potentially even injury.

The league is doing what it has to do. The games must be played and there are only a certain number of openings to insert them. There’s no blame here, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult.

Again, the challenge is an opportunity and learning to overcome these obstacles will help build mental toughness. Unfortunately for Wolves, the schedule isn’t the only hurdle they’ll have to jump over to keep their heads above water.

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While the COVID outbreak is responsible for the crowded schedule, it is the previously established COVID protocols that are going to make things interesting on the ice as well.

To minimize travel and contact, Wolves face the North Bay Battalion, Barrie Colts and Soo Greyhounds far more than anyone else on an unbalanced schedule.

Rivalries with geographically closer teams are excellent. But as Wolves went through it all, guess who got better?

North Bay is currently the best in the Eastern Conference and the other two clubs have recently caused a stir in the trading market, acquiring veteran goalies that will make them much more difficult to face.

The Greyhounds came out and got 19-year-old Tucker Tynan from the Niagara this week, sending third and eighth round picks to the IceDogs. The Colts picked up surplus Mack Guzda from Owen Sound on Nov. 19 for third and fifth round picks.

Suffice to say that it will be difficult to take points from any of the three in the second half of the season.

But all is not gloomy. Provided the 12 players who were infected with COVID are in good health and are not reporting the effects of the virus, the benefit will be that some of the bumps and bruises picked up from training camp have had time to heal. Wolves are also made up of a lot of rookies who haven’t played such a busy schedule in the past, so it’s possible the shutdown allowed some of the players to recharge their batteries – again, assuming COVID did not have the opposite effect and draining them of energy.

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The Wolves will have four games to close 2021, including a New Years battle against the Mississauga Steelheads at Sudbury Community Arena. After that, things will go quickly. The timeline fills up as soon as the timeline moves to 2022 and the trade deadline will also come right away.

Coach Craig Duncanson has shown patience with his young club so far in his first season behind an OHL bench, and that patience will be a virtue in the weeks and months to come. There will certainly be tough times and expectations will have to be realistic given what the wolves have been through here.

But here’s the thing about the word adversity – it’s often found next to the word overcome. If players see this challenge as an opportunity, it’s unclear what they can accomplish. Going through it together will surely make the group stronger, now and in the future.

Jeff Giffen’s Wolf Tracks column appears weekly in The Sudbury Star.

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