Lochead loves a challenge
IceDogs defenceman Willy Lochead is having a solid season. Photo by OHL IMAGES
Nothing comes easy for Willy Lochead and he wouldn’t want it any other way.
The veteran Niagara IceDogs defenceman is normally charged with shutting down the opponent’s top offensive players. It’s a difficult task at the best of times, but Lochead relishes the opportunity.
“I love playing against the top guys,” the London native said. “It’s a good challenge every night.
“I find it fun.”
The numbers suggest Lochead does his job very well. He led all Niagara defenceman with a solid plus-13 rating, an impressive number under any circumstances, let alone for a player in his position.
“He led our D in plus-minus and it’s not like he’s getting the offensive situations,” IceDogs coach Billy Burke said. “He’s getting all the hard defensive assignments. We put him out there against all the top guys in the league and he relishes and embraces that role. He does it well.
“He’s becoming one of the hardest defencemen in the league to play against and you can see it. Guys in the third period start to look down the bench to see if Willy is coming. Last night, they were trying to get Willy away from some of their top guys.”
Burke said Lochead’s role is vital.
“You need a defenceman like that — high character, strong PK, strong shutdown and a big, high-compete type of defenceman — and that’s what Willy is for us. He’s a huge part of our back end.”
Lochead, who turns 20 Friday, is well aware he walks a tightrope going up against some of the top snipers in the league.
“You can’t make mistakes or they will capitalize. You can’t even make a small mistake or they will take advantage of that,” he said. “I find it a little bit easier when a team has only one or two top guys. When a team has three, it becomes really challenging.”
Lochead is in third full season with the team and is playing more meaningful minutes than ever now that it’s playoff time.
“It’s great. It’s the best part of the season,” he said. “It’s everything you worked so hard for all season so it’s a lot of fun.”
Lochead is also well aware how important it is for the entire roster to be pulling in the same direction at this time of the season.
“I think when the playoffs come around, everyone knows what their role is. If you’re a goal scorer, you have to score goals. If you’re a play maker, you have to make plays. My role is to be more defensive and cover their top guys so that’s what I need to do.”
The IceDogs lead the Oshawa Generals 2-1 in their best-of-seven, Ontario Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final series. Niagara won the first two games at home before dropping a 6-2 decision at Oshawa Tuesday. Danial Singer and Akil Thomas had the Niagara goals.
“Going on the road is tough,” Burke said. “We knew they were going to be faster and make more plays and play with more desperation and that’s what it was.
“I think a lot of guys might have thought it was going to be like it was the same type of game as it was here and that’s not the case in the playoffs. You have to be ready for their push. They were desperate to get back into and they’re going to be desperate again tomorrow to get back into it.”
Game 4 goes Thursday in Oshawa with Game 5 back in Niagara Saturday at 7 p.m.
“Now it’s our turn to go there and play a real smart road game. I thought we worked hard for the most part. I just thought we could have worked a little smarter,” Burke said.
The IceDogs figure if they can get a split in Oshawa, they will be in good shape.
“That’s what we wanted to do. It would have been great to sweep them but that was a bit of a pipe dream,” Burke said. “It’s not Game 7 but we have to have a desperation to go down there and play a fast, physical game and get this back here 3-1.
“If not, then it’s two of three and we have two games at home.”
The IceDogs will be without centre Kyle Langdon who still has four more games to serve in his six-game suspension for a blind-side hit in the series opener. As well, defenceman Johnathon Schaefer continues to be sidelined with an upper body injury.
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