Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com
Lakehead's Matt Caria breaks free earlier this season against Western at Fort William Gardens.
Mike Quesnele knows exactly what Santa needs to bring the Lakehead Thunderwolves for Christmas – a little maturity.
Mired in fourth place in the OUA West at the break, the Wolves just couldn’t seem to string anything together in the opening half of the season, splitting seven straight series, the final five after orchestrating the ouster of coach Joel Scherban.
Quesnele is convinced the talent in the dressing room is better than their 9-5-2 record speaks.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating because in the room we believe we have a team that’s capable of that. But at the same time, I think it’s a credit to the OUA and the CIS as to how good everyone is getting now.”
The Sault Ste. Marie native said maybe their up-and-down play is a blessing in disguise.
“It seems for us the last two years we’ve kind of peaked early and maybe it means we’ll peak later toward the playoffs when we need to,” Quesnele said.
To be fair, the Wolves have been hard-hit by the injury bug. All-star defenceman Mitch Fillman has been sidelined most of the current campaign with a concussion, while highly touted stay-at-home rearguard Jay Gilbert has only suited up for two OUA contests.
And goalie Alex Dupuis was forced to shoulder the load for much of the first half with back-up Jeff Bosch out of action.
But injuries aren’t excuses and Quesnele, who has just one goal and five assists, said the team has to look within if they want to find success in the second half.
“I think biggest thing for the players is our mentality. Just everyone has to buy into what (coach Mike Busniuk) and (assistant) Jeremy (Adduono) are saying. Those guys know how to win. They’ve won, and I know the whole team knows what they’re doing,” he said.
“It’s just we have to – I don’t know if grow up is the right words – but mature to accepting their role and knowing they’re going to lead us to victory at the end of it.”
Still, the statistics don’t lie. The Wolves are in the bottom third in the nation in goals against average, and while they’re sixth in the CIS with 3.81 goals a game, only Queen’s, Ryerson and the University of British Columbia are worse on the penalty kill, a dangerous trait for a team that has the second-highest penalty totals in Canada.
Rookie Luke Judson said it’s been a tumultuous first half to his freshman season, but said despite everything that’s happened, the Wolves are still in the hunt, and a few changes here and there will make a big difference going forward.
“I hope we realize now how big those Saturday games are at home. I think that would make a huge difference in the standings. We let a lot of games slip away, a lot of leads slip away, so hopefully those are lessons learned,” said Judson, who shone in his first 16 OUA games, scoring a team-high 10 goals to go with nine assists.
The 21-year-old said it wasn’t easy seeing Scherban go, but he’s noticed positive changes on the ice under Busniuk and Adduono’s watch.
“It was definitely an eye-opener to have the coaching change, but I think it will help us in the long run,” Judson said.
“It’s more of a certainty about what we need to do. It was a little bit wishy-washy before in different situations. I know I wasn’t sure where I needed to be, what I needed to do. Now it’s a little more concrete what I need to do at all times out there.”
Second-year forward Mike Hammond, who shares the team scoring lead with the now-departed Thomas Frazee, said it’s all about staying focused on the task at hand.
“At the end of the day, we’re all here for one reason, to win a national championship. If we stay focused, keep our mindset right and show up and work hard every day, it should be a new attitude in the second half,” Hammond said.
“We did a lot wrong and did a lot right. We need to take those negatives and turn them into positives, just be there for each other as a team and keep pushing.”
Claw marks: Next up for Lakehead are a pair of non-conference games Dec. 28 and 29 at home against the defending champion McGill Redmen.