Soustal, Laframboise and Del Paggio firm

From  left, Lakehead Thunderwolves Tomas Soustal, Josh Laframboise and Daniel Del Paggio celebrate a goal earlier this season. The high scoring trio leads LU into the playoffs tonight.

The Lakehead Thunderwolves’ offensive numbers this season were not much different than last year. The 2018-19 club, which missed the playoffs, scored 82 goals in 28 games compared to 84 from this current crew.

Shots on goals are close (985 a year ago to 975), while power play percentage has dipped (from 17 to 14.8). However, the Thunderwolves are preparing for the opening round of the OUA men’s hockey playoffs tonight against the Ryerson Rams at Fort William Gardens thanks to consistency and timely scoring from their three-headed monster.

Daniel Del Paggio, Tomas Soustal and Josh Laframboise — a trio that made up the Wolves’ top forward line for most of the season — each enjoyed career highs. Del Paggio led Lakehead (13-12-3) with 11 goals and 22 assists in conference play.

Soustal, a sophomore, put up 32 points and Laframboise was among the OUA’s leading goal scorers with 16 markers to go with 12 assists. All three were among the top 20 in league scoring.

Last season, Del Paggio paced LU with just 23 points.

“It was nice. It’s nice to improve on numbers and statistics, but I don’t think the year’s past numbers were lower due to lack of chances,” said Del Paggio, a third-year business student. “We basically had equal chances, if not more, in the past. I just think we had really good chemistry together this year and our power play was also a major factor in doing better statistically.”

The trio combined for 10 power play goals this season compared to one last year. But the Thunderwolves’ secondary scoring was shaky at best. Jordan King, Jordan Larson and freshmen Kyle Auger and Geoff Dempster were the only other players to hit double-digit in points.

Game 1 of the best-of-three series is tonight at the Gardens. Puck drop is 7 p.m. The 20-5-3 Rams, ranked fifth in Canada, host Games 2 and 3, if necessary, this weekend at Mattamy Centre in Toronto — site of the old Maple Leaf Gardens.

While the Wolves bring a top-heavy offensive attack to the table against a favoured opponent, all it takes is for one of Lakehead’s stars — or an unheralded name — to break out tonight to put the weight of the series on Ryerson’s shoulders. The teams split their two regular season meetings in November.

“We have little pressure on us. We have a very young team,” Del Paggio said. “We just have to work as hard as we can every shift and stick to our structure. Stay positive. There’s a lot of momentum shifts in the playoffs. We know that so we know what to expect.”

Of the three “monsters”, Laframboise has seen to be the most valuable on both ends of the ice. When Thunderwolves coach Andrew Wilkins decided to split up his top line, he put Laframboise to anchor struggling forwards Dempster and Dexter Kuczek.

“Josh is a kid that loves scoring,” Wilkins said. “He’s got 16 on the year which is very good, but he’s a kid that plays a 200-foot game. He’s relied on our penalty kill. As long as he’s playing that way, I’m good with it.”

Ryerson’s offence speaks for itself. The Ram were fourth in goals per game (3.52) and total goals scored (102). They also boast one of the top power play units in the OUA with a 20.4 percentage. Matt Mistele and Mathew Santos are among the top scorers on the Rams.

The match-up in net features LU freshman Brock Aiken against Ryerson’s Garrett Forrest, who is ninth in the conference in goal-against average.

“We’re going to need our best in every part of the game to stay in the game with them,” Wilkins said.

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