Sports

Leivo really one to watch 0

GENE PEREIRA - Special to the Examiner
Josh Leivo

Josh Leivo

Josh Leivo's play certainly turned some heads in Sudbury Wolves training camp last season.

The Innisfil native was easily the talk of the Wolves camp and the expectations for the rookie winger were growing each and every time he hit the ice.

But Leivo's play early on quickly tempered those lofty forecasts as, like most young players finding their way in a new league, he struggled out of the gate, scoring just twice in his first 30 OHL games.

The second half was a completely different story. The Wolves' 11th round pick in the 2009 OHL Priority Selection blossomed into one of the team's top forwards, scoring 11 times in Sudbury's final 34 contests.

It was the playoffs, though, where Leivo really came to life. Playing on the Wolves' top line with former Barrie Colt Michael Sgarbossa and Andrey Kuchin, he scored six goals and assisted on seven others as Sudbury upset the Ottawa 67's in the opening round before falling to the Mississauga Majors in the second round.

Looking back, Sudbury head coach Trent Cull admits the Wolves were probably playing Leivo out of position. When they scaled things back, he believes, is when things finally started to pay off for their young winger.

The result was a dominant second half and Leivo being drafted in the third round (82nd overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs in this year's NHL Entry Draft.

"We had to do the right thing by him last year," said Cull, whose squad will play host to the Barrie Colts Friday night at the Sudbury Arena. "We had to make sure we were teaching him the whole parts of the game first and then we felt like at the start of the year we weren't in a great situation to put him in a spot to succeed. By the end of the year, we'd thought we'd done the right steps and you know what, he was obviously rewarded for that, but then he rewarded us in turn because he played so well.

"That's where Josh has come back this year. When Josh is in our lineup, it really helps us out as a team and we think he's a big part of our team moving forward."

It was a big summer for the six-foot-one, 181-pound winger, but building off his play in last year's playoff run is what's important now for Leivo.

"For sure. It was a huge run last year and unfortunately we had to lose in the second round," said the 18-year-old, who wasn't even listed on the NHL's final Central Scouting Rankings in April.

"I feel like I helped out in the playoffs and I'm just looking forward to this year," he said, "because I know I can do what I did in the playoffs last year.

"I'm just going to look forward and do as much as I can and produce as much as I can."

Leivo hasn't gotten off to the start he wanted this season, only because of a hip injury he suffered in the Maple Leafs rookie camp.

After earning two assists in Sudbury's season opening 5-3 loss to Mississauga, the hip wasn't getting any better and it was decided he would shut it down until he was fully healed.

"It wasn't that bad," Leivo said of what he called a tightness in his hip. "I guess it just kept getting a little worse and worse. I took a little break off to heal it 100% and I guess it paid off, because now all the guys are ready to go and it looks like we're doing good."

Cull had to shut down his top forward for two weeks.

"By the time we got him back (from Leafs camp), he desperately needed time off," Cull said. "He played the first couple of games for us, but he wasn't the player that he certainly finished as. He was trying to fight through for us, so we parked him off for a couple of weeks and saw that it did him a world of good.

"He's come back and played the last few games for us and been instrumental for us and certainly will be for us moving forward as a team."

Leivo impressed in his short stay with the Leafs, but was told to return to the Wolves and get bigger, stronger and faster.

Despite a brief stay at the Leafs main camp, the power forward feels he came away a more confident player and he hopes to pass on what he learned to his younger Sudbury teammates.

"They teach you a lot of stuff," said Leivo, who aims on working harder on his defensive side of the game. "No matter if it's one time, or 10 times, you're going to learn a lot. Main camp was also a big help. All the older guys on the team are good guys and they helped you out. They taught you things you didn't know.

"It obviously helped and I'm going to bring it back to this team and help them out a little bit."

The Wolves (1-4-1-0) are off to a slower start than expected, although much of that is probably a result of having eight regulars out of the lineup early on.

But with the likes of Sgarbossa, Josh McFadden, Frankie Corrado and Justin Sefton back in the lineup, Leivo expects the club to turn things around.

They started that process by earning their first win of the season, a 5-4 victory over the Niagara IceDogs last Friday.

"We had seven guys go to NHL camps, so at the beginning of the year some of the guys stayed a little later than some of the other guys that were there," said Leivo, who has a pair of goals and four assists in four games this season. "We didn't have everybody, but now we do so hopefully we can just keep it rolling and we can teach the younger guys."

Facing his hometown team is always fun for Leivo, but with both teams in the Central Division and noted rivals, all that matters is they cool a strong start by the Colts and start on their own winning streak.

"These guys are definitely hot and they're beating everybody and doing what they can, but I think our team can do just fine against them," Leivo said of the Colts. "Any team can do good against anybody, it's just how they play. We worked hard this week and we're ready to go. We just want the win."

Game time tonight is 7:30 p.m. The Colts finish off the northern road trip with a date Saturday night against the Greyhounds in Sault Ste. Marie.

sports@thebarrieexaminer.com

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HOCKEY?TIDBITS

ONE LESS IN WOLVES PACK

The Sudbury Wolves lessened the log jam on the blue line by dealing defenceman Frank Schumacher to the Niagara IceDogs for a sixth-round selection in 2012 and a conditional sixth-round pick in 2014 if Schumacher plays an overage season. "What it boiled down to was, with McFadden returning, we had eight defencemen here," Wolves general manager Blaine Smith told QMI. "Schumacher is in his draft year and he would have had a hard time getting the experience and minutes he wanted here with so many returning defencemen."

WOLVES ON THE MEND

Forwards Michael MacDonald, Alex Racino and Jacob Harris are expected to miss Friday's contest and remain week-to-week with unspecified injuries. Goaltender Joel Vienneau is listed as day-to-day.

LEADER OF THE PACK

Former Colt Michael Sgarbossa leads all Wolves skaters in scoring with three goals and four assists in six games. The San Jose Sharks prospect went on an impressive tear for the Wolves after he was acquired from Saginaw before last year's trade deadline, racking up an almost unconscious 29 goals and 33 assists in just 37 games with Sudbury. He topped if off with five goals and nine assists in just eight playoff games.

YOUTHFUL WOLVES

A lot is expected of Sudbury this year after their strong finish and upset of Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs last year. But head coach Trent Cull is quick to remind those his young club is still finding its way in the OHL. "We got three 19-year-olds and two overages. We just don't have an old team," Cull said. "We're a young team moving forward. I kind of always known that. I know we had a good flash at the end last year, but we're still going to have some growing pains this year. Even though we have a lot of guys that played a year, maybe two years, it's time for them to start slowly taking that next step and we're going to need some time to get better."

COLTS ON THE MEND

Steven Beyers (groin injury) will be back in the lineup after missing the last five games with a groin injury. Reid McNeill also returned to the ice last week after missing all of preseason and the first five games with an upper body injury. Alex Lepkowski (upper body injury) and Ivan Telegin (lower body injury) are not expected to return this weekend.

BACK IN GOAL

Mathias Niederberger will make his seventh start of the season in Sudbury. The German import gave up three goals on 10 shots and was pulled early in the second period of last Saturday's 8-6 win over Niagara.


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