The Lakehead Thunderwolves knew what they had in Mike Hammond.
A point-a-game player his first two seasons, the team plan to lean heavily on the junior forward in the absence of much of last season’s scoring power.
What coach Bill McDonald didn’t know was where the rest of the goals would come from.
Unfamiliar with his team, as training camp broke he pieced together lines, hoping for the best.
In a stroke of brilliance, he brought together Hammond with newcomer Kelin Ainsworth and gritty Jake Carrick, a player who racked up more than 100 penalty minutes in each of his first two seasons.
The trio, each of whom brings a different skill set to the team, have clicked.
Hammond leads the team with four goals and three assists in four games; Ainsworth, an NCAA transfer, is second with three goals and three assists and Carrick has already equalled last year’s OUA output with a goal and two assists.
“I think it’s just because we’re staying simple and just letting the puck do the work,” said the 23-year-old Hammond, a product of the British Columbia Hockey League, where he was a 39-goal scorer in his final season.
“We’re moving it, we’re working hard getting back on the forecheck. We’re good enough players that the goals will come if we keep working hard.”
It’s actually a classic hockey line. Think back to the New York Islanders heyday of the 1980s, with pure goal scorer Mike Bossy leading the charge, playmaker and two-way legend Bryan Trottier setting the table and grinder Clark Gillies providing a little muscle and timely offence too.
Carrick, in the Gillies role, was the wild card in the mix.
A graduate of the Windsor Spitfirers and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he scored 22 goals and 44 points in his last year of junior.
But his production with the Wolves slipped last season, after a rookie campaign that saw him light the lamp seven times.
The confidence is back, said Carrick, who nonetheless must find a way to stay out of penalty trouble, especially with his expanded role.
“It’s a little different coming in. We’ve never played together. So we’re just working hard, putting pucks on net and it’s working for us,” the 22-year-old Carrick said.
“In this league, that’s like half the battle, getting pucks on net and going hard.”
The unfamiliar has quickly become second hat, he added. It helps when skill and instinct kick in.
“The puck sticks to Hammond, so you can give him a bad pass or anything and he’s going to handle it. It’s a nice change.”
It’s a welcome development for McDonald, whose 3-1-0 squad hosts Laurier on Friday and Saturday night at Fort William Gardens.
“They’ve got a little bit of everything, if you really want to dissect it. They’ve got Mike Hammond who’s got unbelievable hands and is a real good thinker – not that they all don’t think. But then you’ve got a guy like Ainsworth who supplies a lot of speed and creates a lot of chances by his
speed. And then you’ve got Jake, who’s more of a grittier guy with a good shot,” McDonald said.
“They’ve got three ingredients there and just seem to be working hard all the time and it’s going in for them.”
Claw marks: Ryan Magill missed practice on Wednesday, recovering from a bug that’s been going around the dressing room ... Rookie defenceman Nathan Bruyere (ankle) will be a game-time decision ... Hammond’s four goals is third-best in the OUA, his seven points, fourth ... Veteran forward Trevor Gamache tops the league with 26 penalty minutes ... The Wolves are in a four-way tie for second in the OUA West, two points behind unbeaten York (4-0-0).
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