As the winter winds begin to blow and the snow starts to fall, it can only mean one thing – hockey season is here. In the world of minor hockey, there is no greater excitement than the start of a new season. Fans eagerly anticipate the return of their favorite players, while coaches and management strategize for a successful campaign. But for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the 2019-2020 season was a tale of two very different seasons.
From the first puck drop in September to the final buzzer in March, the Sudbury Wolves navigated a regular season filled with ups and downs. However, the team showed great potential and displayed moments of brilliance, leading them to finish second in the Central Division and earn a spot in the playoffs. But it was their playoff performance that truly captured the attention of fans and hockey enthusiasts around the world, and is a testament to the resilience and determination of this team.
For over 50 years, the Sudbury Wolves have been a cornerstone of the Northern Ontario community, and one of the most successful teams in the OHL. But despite their long-standing presence in the league, the 2019-2020 season marked a significant moment in the team’s history as it was their first season under the ownership of Dario Zulich, a successful businessman and passionate hockey fan. Zulich’s ownership brought about a renewed energy and excitement to the team, as well as a commitment to building a competitive and winning organization.
Under the guidance of head coach Cory Stillman, a former NHL player and two-time Stanley Cup champion, the Sudbury Wolves began their regular season on a high note, winning six of their first ten games. Despite a few fluctuations throughout the season, the team continued to maintain a winning record and displayed a strong offensive game, averaging 3.46 goals per game, which was second best in the league.
Leading the offensive charge for the Wolves was 19-year-old center Quinton Byfield, who was drafted second overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings. Byfield proved to be a dominant force on the ice, leading the team in scoring with 82 points in just 45 games. His skill and talent earned him the OHL scoring title, as well as recognition as the league’s most valuable player.
But it wasn’t just Byfield who shone on the ice. The Wolves boasted a talented roster, with other notable players such as 18-year-old winger Blake Murray and 17-year-old defenseman Jack Thompson. Murray finished the season with 63 points, while Thompson recorded an impressive 13 goals, making him the highest-scoring defenseman on the team.
The Wolves also made a number of strategic moves throughout the regular season, acquiring key players such as 19-year-old center David Levin and 19-year-old goaltender Mitchell Weeks. Levin, who was the first overall pick in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection Draft, brought a wealth of experience and skill to the team, while Weeks proved to be a solid addition to the Wolves’ goaltender lineup.
As the regular season came to a close, the Sudbury Wolves had secured a spot in the playoffs, finishing second in the Central Division with a record of 34-27-1-0. But little did anyone know that the team was just getting warmed up.
The Wolves entered the playoffs with a determination and drive that was unmatched. Their first-round opponent was the Mississauga Steelheads, and the Wolves quickly took control of the series, winning four straight games and outscoring their opponents 24-10. Their dominant play continued into the second round, as they faced off against the North Bay Battalion. In a closely contested battle, the Wolves emerged victorious in six games, with key contributions from players such as Byfield, Murray, and Levin.
But it was in the conference finals that the Sudbury Wolves truly captured the hearts and minds of their fans and hockey enthusiasts around the world. Facing off against the Saginaw Spirit, a team that had finished first in the Western Conference and were favorites to win the series, the Wolves seemed to come alive. The team never backed down, and with each game, they seemed to gain more confidence and momentum.
In a competitive and intense series, the Sudbury Wolves emerged victorious in six games, earning their spot in the OHL Championship for the first time since 1996. While they ultimately fell to the Guelph Storm in the finals, their performance throughout the playoffs was nothing short of impressive.
In just their first season under the new ownership and with a young and talented roster, the Sudbury Wolves had surpassed all expectations and proved themselves to be a force to be reckoned with in the OHL. For the fans, the players, and the entire organization, this was just the start of something special.
As the days get shorter and the winter weather settles in, hockey fans eagerly await the return of their beloved sport. And for the Sudbury Wolves, the upcoming season brings with it the promise of even greater success and a continued drive for excellence. As the saying goes, It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and the Wolves have certainly shown that they are a team to watch in the world of minor hockey.
The Sudbury Wolves’ 2019-2020 season was a tale of two seasons – a regular season filled with promise and potential, and a playoff run that captured the attention of hockey fans everywhere. With a young, talented roster and a strong desire to succeed, the future looks bright for this team. The Wolves have undoubtedly solidified their place in the world of minor hockey, and will continue to be a team to watch for many seasons to come.