THUNDER BAY – The 10th-ranked Lakehead Thunderwolves have plenty of momentum heading into Friday’s night’s rivalry match against the visiting York Lions.
The Wolves on Tuesday landed on the U Sports top 10 list for the first time in four-and-a-half years, riding a six-game winning streak that has them battling with Ryerson for top spot in the OUA West.
While still early in the season, the resurgence under first-year coach Andrew Wilkins has been remarkable.
The Wolves last season were among the bottom four teams in the league in terms of offensive production, but in the early going of 2018-19 have managed to add 1.21 goals a game to their per-night average, ranking them sixth in the league at 3.67.
They’ve made slight improvements defensively and vast strides on special teams, getting better on both the power play and penalty kill.
Second-year forward Daniel Del Paggio, who is tied for team lead with freshman Jordan King with eight points, said it all comes down to confidence.
“I think in our last 10 games I think we’ve only had one real stinker, against Windsor, when we came out really flat. But aside from that, we’ve been playing really well. It’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is happy going to the rink. Everyone’s having a blast,” said Del Paggio, named the men’s hockey player of the month for October earlier this week.
Del Paggio said the Wolves work ethic, which won them several games last season, can only take a team so far. This fall the difference has been in the execution.
“This year I think you’re seeing a lot more offence created. We have a lot of new faces that bring that and it seems that our lines are clicking and we’re gelling together,” he said.
In addition to King, who has posted four goals and four assists in nine games, the Wolves are getting contributions from several newcomers, including Dexter Kuczek, who has chipped in three goals and seven points, a stat line matched by rookie defenceman Caleb Boman. Jordan Larson also has a couple of goals, as does Czech important Tomas Soustal.
Add in the return of second-year forward Josh Laframoise, and it’s not hard to see the potential of this team.
Wilkins, a former Thunderwolves assistant coach who assumed the coaching reins from the now-retired Bill McDonald, said the team is doing everything it takes to get ready for games.
It’s paid off, he added.
“The way the guys prepare, the way the guys practice is exceptional, really. The work that we’re putting in as a team is translating into our game on the ice,” said Wilkins, whose team is 7-2-0, a point behind the powerful Ryerson Rams.
“We have really good leadership that sets the example every day. It’s still early in the season. We faced a little bit of adversity with a three-game road trip (last weekend), coming back from behind, and we’re looking to continue our success moving forward. But it’s coming because we’re working hard and staying positive.”
Puck drop Friday and Saturday night at Fort William Gardens is 7 p.m.
Claw marks: Although the Thunderwolves hold a 35-25-0 record all-time against York, the Lions have won 12 of the last 13 meetings and knocked LU out of the playoffs the past two seasons.