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Krawchuk shines, Wolves get revenge in win over Battalion

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If the Sudbury Wolves have the second half they’re hoping for, an emotional win over leading North Bay Battalion could be late 2022 where it all started.

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Goals in the third period from Alex Pharand and Landon McCallum combined with a performance of 31 saves from rookie goalie Nate Krawchuk propelled the Wolves to a 3-2 win on Friday night in front of an energetic and entertained crowd at the Sudbury Community Arena.

Krawchuk’s record improved to 2-4, but it was his first win as a starter since his other win came to the relief of Joe Ranger in Barrie on December 10.

Head coach Derek MacKenzie sat out the first of a two-game suspension over an incident in Wednesday’s 7-3 loss at North Bay, which also cost rookie Nathan Villeneuve two games after leaving the bench to focus on the ice to argue.

Assistant coach Rick Dorval took over the post-game interview duties in place of MacKenzie and was both delighted with Krawchuk and impressed with his performance.

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“He’s such a great kid and he works hard day in, day out and, you know, he wasn’t so lucky in some of his previous starts,” Dorval said. “To see him have the success he had (Friday night) fighting for pucks and you know he made some important saves at key moments and he swallowed a lot of pucks too. When we needed a line change their second, third opportunity didn’t come and that allowed us to make the key line changes and get back on track.”

Krawchuk stopped 12 of 13 in the first third, six of seven in the second, and all 13 in the third. You could see the confidence building in the youngster, who was voted third overall by the Wolves in the 2022 U18 draft. Dorval knows that games like this can boost careers.

“Definitely, especially for a goalkeeper, confidence is such a big thing,” noted Dorval. “A big game like this can help him gain some confidence and also build confidence in the dressing room knowing he can make it big for us and save us if we make some mistakes.”

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There was a large number of North Bay fans at the rink and no doubt many Sudburians were home for the holidays which made for a great atmosphere and the game did not disappoint. There was a series of skirmishes after whistles as the two Highway 17 rivals renewed acquaintances for the second time in 48 hours.

David Goyette gave the home side a 1-0 lead at 6:39 of the opening period, snagging a loose puck in the slot and placing a backhand into the far post on the glove side of battalion goalie Dom Divincentiis, Winnipeg Jets prospect was phenomenal in a losing cause for the battalion, stopping 29 of 32. Kocha Delic and Matthew Mania provided the assists for Goyette’s goal.

The battalion drew 1-1 as Anthony Romani defeated Krawchuk 14-28. Romani was on hand for Johnny for his 11th time this season, taking Ethan Procyszyn’s deft feed from below the goal line and burying him on the blocking side. Luc Brzustowski drew the additional template.

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It was a crazy second period that featured a bit of everything, including some “Ref, you suck” chants from the wild crowd. The only goal was a short-handed penalty by 19-year-old battalion forward Nikita Tarasevich of Belarus, who made a nice deke, faked with the backhand and then forehanded it around Krawchuk at 10:26. The penalty kick was somewhat controversial as it appeared the slash from behind had landed more on Tarasevich’s pants than his hands on the first breakaway.

If fans didn’t like that call, they must have later hated an odd blind call on Djibril Toure when it appeared to hit the player face-to-face and a stumbling call on Dylan Robinson as he slipped out and swept the puck off a player’s stick while taking feet out with his follow-through. Defenseman Andre Anania also took a five-minute major and misconduct of the game for Spearing, eventually leading to a five-a-three chance for North Bay early in the third.

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Krawchuk stood tall and helped kill it, setting the table for Pharand to equalize after a point shot from Matthew Mania at 5:16 and McCallum to take the power play from near the blue line at 10:18 as the winner to levitate, with assists for Jacob Holmes and Nick DeGrazia.

The Battalion struggled to beat DiVincentiis in the final two minutes, but Wolves’ defenders made life difficult, preventing the visitors from having a final push to level the game.

Winger Evan Konyen was delighted his club bounced back from Wednesday’s tough first-half defeat at home and away.

“Everyone in the room was really disappointed with how things went in the last game against North Bay,” said Konyen. “We use them as a good benchmark, we play against them a lot and they’re obviously one of the better teams in this league so it’s a good win to see where we’re up against them.”

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The 18-year-old Pennsylvania resident says he and his friends are looking forward to the second half.

“We’re a bit disappointed with how we’ve started (the season), but I think things are really starting to turn around for us, especially with Derek behind our bench,” Konyen said. “He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had, he has a lot of good systems and we just have to learn from him every day and get better every day.”

Wolves boarded the bus for an overnight trip to Sault Ste. right after Friday’s emotional win. Marie, ahead of a 2:07 p.m. New Year’s Eve start against the Greyhounds. After that, they have the better part of a week off before playing three games over three days next weekend. It begins at home against the Oshawa Generals on Friday, followed by a visit to Hamilton on Saturday night and Mississauga on Sunday afternoon.

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