The Mississauga Steelheads picked an impressive way to head into this year’s OHL playoffs.
Cole Schwindt potted the winner with just under two minutes remaining as the Steelheads scored four times in a little more than four minutes to erase a three-goal deficit late in the third period en route a 5-4 win over the Barrie Colts, Mar. 17, at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
Mississauga capped off the comeback when Alan Lyszczarczyk skated behind the Barrie net and found Schwindt in front, who fired it past the glove hand of Colts goalie Kai Edmonds for his second of the game.
It was quite the way to close out the 2018-19 regular season schedule for the Steelheads, who chose to give five regulars a breather ahead of next week’s opening-round playoff series against the Sudbury Wolves.
“With the lineup we had – we had five guys out – it was a tough one for sure, but the guys showed good character,” Mississauga general manager and head coach James Richmond said of the late rally. “We stayed with it. We didn’t have much luck early on, but they stayed with it and got rewarded at the end.”
Schwindt would also record a pair of assists to finish the night with four points, while Lyszczarczyk would score twice and add an assist for a three-point effort. The Steelheads scored three times in just 40 seconds, with Nick Isaacson tying the game at 14:09.
Aidan Brown, Ryan Suzuki, Riley Piercey and Tyson Foerster scored for the Colts (36-38-3-1), who will miss the playoffs for only the third time in franchise history.
With the win, Mississauga (32-29-5-2) jumped over the Peterborough Petes to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. A solid finish for a club that looked to the future at the OHL trade deadline back in early January, dealing away top NHL forward prospects Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Richmond said. “I know they’re probably not happy with me for doing it. Trust me, part of me as the coach I’m not happy for doing it, but I know deep down it’s the best thing for our organization and hopefully I’m here for a long time to reap the benefits of what we did at the deadline.
“The kids here have really pulled together. The last two weeks have been a struggle for us, no doubt about it. We got away from what makes us good, but today we played pretty well. We didn’t give them a lot. We outshot them again, but we just didn’t have the luck and I’m real proud of the kids.”
The Steelheads and Wolves will kick off their best-of-seven series Mar. 22 in Sudbury, the first of a rare three-games-in-three-night set in the playoffs.
Led by outstanding Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Sudbury (43-20-3-2) finished fourth in the Eastern Conference. Luukkonen, who led Finland to a gold medal at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships and is a second-round pick (54 overall) of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, posted a 38-11-2 record with a goals against average of 2.50 and a league-best .920 save percentage.
“Sudbury has a high, high end goalie and they’re playing well in front of them,” said Richmond, whose club will be a clear underdog in the series.
“We’re going to have our work cut out for us, but if we play our game and get goaltending we might be able to surprise some people,” he added. “Today we had 11 (2001s) and (2002s) in the lineup, so if we can get some experience for those kids it will benefit our club next year, the year after and the year after that.”
Game 2 is set for Mar. 23 in Sudbury, before the series returns to Mississauga for Game 3 on Mar. 24.
(4) SUDBURY WOLVES VS (5) MISSISSAUGA STEELHEADS
Mar. 22 – Mississauga vs. Sudbury, 7:05 p.m.
Mar. 23 – Mississauga vs. Sudbury, 7:05 p.m.
Mar. 24 – Sudbury vs. Mississauga at Sudbury, 7:05 p.m.
Mar. 27 – Sudbury vs. Mississauga at Sudbury, 7 p.m.
Mar. 28 – Mississauga vs. Sudbury, 7:05 p.m. (if necessary)
Mar. 31 – Sudbury vs. Mississauga at Sudbury, 2 p.m. (if necessary)
Apr. 1 – Mississauga vs. Sudbury, 7:05 p.m. (if necessary)
photo: Cole Schwindt scored twice, including the game winner with just under two minutes remaining, to help the Mississauga Steelheads erase a three-goal deficit late in the third period en route to a 5-4 come-from-behind win over the Barrie Colts, Mar. 17, at Paramount Fine Foods Centre. Terry Wilson/OHL Images