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OHL 20 in 20 Spotlight: Levin and Lalonde usher Wolves into new era

Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Entering the 2016-17 season under new ownership for the first time in 30 years, the Sudbury Wolves are ready to turn the page and embark on a new era of OHL hockey in the Nickel City.

With their 45th anniversary season on the horizon, Sudbury businessman Dario Zulich purchased the franchise from the Burgess and Edwards families and immediately placed an emphasis on the club’s role in the community.

“There is no greater unifying spirit in our region than the Sudbury Wolves,” said Zulich last week. “People of all ages and walks of life celebrate the wins, suffer the losses and appreciate the game of hockey in Canada. Sudbury hockey fans are known across the country and around the world for their knowledge of the game and their passion for our team.”

While the passion remains, the mood has been subdued at the old Sudbury Arena these past two seasons as the Wolves have won just 12 and 16 games respectively.

Though they’ve struggled, the Wolves have leveraged high draft positioning to build a foundation for future success and consistency, bringing in sensational Israeli winger David Levin first overall in 2015 before selecting cerebral, smooth-skating defenceman Owen Lalonde second overall this past April.

These two players, paired with up-and-coming 17-year-old goaltender Jake McGrath and a host of other promising youngsters in Macauley Carson, Owen Lane, Shane Bulitka, Conor Ali, Owen Gilhula and Russian sniper Dmitry Sokolov, provide Sudbury fans with reason for optimism.

“David Levin is a very focused, hard-working young player who possesses a love for the game like few I’ve ever seen,” commented Wolves GM Barclay Branch on the dynamic winger who isn’t eligible for the NHL Draft until 2018.

“We’re all aware of his very unique story, one that is fueled by a passion and desire to the best hockey player he can possibly be.”

Levin, who missed some time to injury during his rookie campaign, finished the year with nine goals, 21 assists and 30 points over 47 games as a 16-year-old.

With Arizona Coyotes prospect Kyle Capobianco and overager Aiden Jamieson shouldering a bulk of the load on the blue line this season, 2016 second overall pick Owen Lalonde makes the jump to the OHL after being named ALLIANCE Minor Midget Player of the Year with the Windsor Jr. Spitfires.

“Wolves fans have a lot to look forward to with Owen,” noted Branch. “Anyone who knows him can echo the sentiment that he’ll be wearing a letter for us at some point down the road. Not only is he a phenomenal young defenceman, he’s also a guy that oozes character and has a great set of leadership qualities.”

A Windsor native, Lalonde is the highest chosen defenceman by the Wolves in the OHL Priority Selection since they took Marc Staal second overall in 2003. He recorded 13 goals, 24 assists and 37 points over 33 games in Minor Midget last season before recording a pair of goals over six games with the LaSalle Vipers Jr. B club during the playoffs.

“He’s one of those young players who will step into our lineup and be a key player for us on the back end,” Branch continued. “Moving forward he’s going to have a long career not just in junior hockey but at the pro level as well. I think you’ll see that Owen will establish himself as a leader throughout his hockey career wherever he goes.”

With Levin and Lalonde providing the Wolves with a franchise cornerstone up front and on the back end and chatter of the possibility of a new arena in Greater Sudbury becoming more frequent, Wolves fans have a lot to look forward to in the years to come.

ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2016-17 season which begins Wednesday September 21.

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