Who is going to score that first goal?
That’s the big question being bantered around this week by both fans and players alike as the Sarnia Sting prepare to take on the Niagara IceDogs Friday night at the RBC Centre.
Game time is 7:05 p.m. for the Ontario Hockey League match at the RBC Centre.
The game is the 13th annual Teddy Bear Toss.
Fans are asked to bring a stuffed bear, (or any stuffed animal), to the game. When the Sting scores their first goal, fans can toss the stuffed animal on the ice. The bears are then collected and donated to 13 different charities in the community, including the Salvation Army.
“Sure, we talk about it,” said Sting defenceman Brent Sullivan, prior to a practice this week. “It’s a great tradition, not only in Sarnia, but throughout the league. It’s great that all the bears go to kids in our area. Everyone on the team wants to score.”
For the first time in the history of the Teddy Bear Toss in Sarnia, a defenceman did score the first goal last season as Joe Rogalski found the back of the net.
“As I recall it was nice goal. I think it was top shelf on a breakaway. No one expected Joe to score,” said Sullivan.
So Sullivan is sticking with a defencemen to score this year as well.
“I’m going with Kyle Flemington. The kid has had a number of scoring chances over the last three or four games. He’s a good friend and hasn’t scored a goal yet in his OHL career. What a great time to get his first goal.”
He added, “If Kyle doesn’t score, how about our captain, Nathan Chiarlitti, (another defenceman). He’s due as well. Nathan always seems to come up with the big goals when needed the most.”
Chiarlitti has one goal so far this season.
Sullivan, who has no goals yet this year, was asked what his chances are of scoring the big goal?
“How about slim to none. If it were going to happen, it would probably be a knuckleball or something like that. I don’t ask how, I just ask how many.”
If you are a betting man, the best odds go to Kale Kerbashian, the team’s top scorer, or rookie Nail Yakupov, who leads the team in goals with 19.
“The best part is that it’s for a good cause,” says Kerbashian. “Usually you don’t get to score for a good cause, but in this case it’s a win-win situation.”
Kerbashian says it’s hard to describe the feeling and the scene on the ice when the bears come flying out of the stands.
“Whatever feeling you had for the game stops for a few minutes. You watch the crowd both throwing the bears and getting hit with bears. Players on the bench get hit while there are bears stuck in the netting at each end of the rink. It’s a special feeling knowing everyone is working together on a good cause.”
Sarnia’s Tyler Peters might also be a good bet to score the goal. He is coming off a two-goal performance in the Sting’s last game with Oshawa and has 11 on the season.
“Being from Sarnia I would love to score that goal. I’ll try my best. The players are motivated and want to score that first goal. It’s for charity and a good idea.”
The Sting is doing their part to ensure that there are as many stuffed animals on the ice as possible.
The team announced earlier this week, “Bring a buddy…bring a bear” promotion exclusive to season ticket and 34-game flex pack holders.
All season ticket holders and 34-game flex pack holders are entitled to one free ticket for Friday’s game. Also, there will be teddy bears on sale Friday night at the Sting Sports Shop. Bears that are regularly $14.99, will be on a sale for only $9.99.
“We want to be able to help out as many of our area children as possible,” said Sting public relations director, Mark Glavin. “We know the need is great this Christmas season. Hopefully we have a full house and get the total number of bears as high as possible.”
The average number of bears collected over the past 12 years is between 2,500 and 3,000. Rob Ravensberg, vice-president at Lambton Ford, and one of the organizers, said it would be great to get over 3,000 bears this year.
Lost in the excitement of the Teddy Bears Toss game is the face the Sting faces another tough opponent who is ranked in the top six or seven in the league. Niagara currently sits third in the Eastern Conference with a 15-7-2-1 record.
This is their only appearance in Sarnia this year.
“Niagara is a good team with good forwards so it’s going to be a good test for us,” said Sullivan. “Last week we took three of six points. We had solid efforts against Owen Sound and Kitchener but weren’t happy with the effort against Oshawa. We had a nice comeback, but couldn’t finish them off. We need to come out and play a full 60 minutes of hockey.”
– The game with Niagara will be the only home game with Niagara this weekend. Sarnia travels to Erie Saturday night to take on the Otters and play Sunday afternoon in Brampton against the Battalion. Their next home game is Dec. 11th against the Windsor Spitfires.
– Kerbashian is the team’s top scorer with 15 goals and 25 assists for 40 points. Yakupov is just a point back with 19 goals and 20 assists. Peters is third with 11 goals and 16 assists and Alex Galachenyuk fourth with nine goals and 16 assists.
– Ryan Strome is Niagara’s top scorer with 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points. Andrew Agozzino and Alex Friesen are tied for second with 27 points apiece as Agozzino has 17 goals and 10 assists and Friesen 10 goals and 17 assists.
– John Cullen is expected to start in goal for the Sting. He sports a 7-7-2-0 mark with a 3.38 goals against average and a .900 save percentage. Teammate Brandon Hope has a 4-4-1-1 mark with a 3.78 g.a.a. and .893 save percentage. Mark Visentin is Niagara’s top goalie with an impressive 10-4-2-1 record, a 2.50 g.a.a. and a .912 save percentage.
– Tonight’s buffet at Coyote Jack’s Restaurant is entitled Waaay South of the Border. It includes zesty cheddar jalapeno soup, taco/nacho and fajita bar, Mexican rice, Mexican fries and a dessert table. Calling 519-541-1000, Ext. 112, can make reservations.
– Tickets for the game can be obtained by calling the RBC Centre Box Office at 519-541-1717 or going online at Sarniasting.com
– Sarnia sports a 7-5 record in Teddy Bear Toss games. The Sting defeated Plymouth 3-2 in a shootout last year.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games both home and away and also does features for the Sting Website.
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Teddy Bear Toss Goal Scorers and Game Results
2009 – Joe Rogalski Result – 3-2 SO Win (Plymouth)
2008 – Justin DiBenedetto Result – 3-2 SO Loss (St. Michael’s)
2007 – Steven Stamkos Result – 4-3 SO Win (Plymouth)
2006 – Harrison Reed Result – 5-3 Win (Barrie)
2005 – Jared Gomes Result – 6-4 Loss (Barrie)
2004 – Chad Painchaud Result – 3-1 Loss (Plymouth)
2003 – Daniel Sisca Result – 4-3 Win (Saginaw)
2002 – John Hecimovic Result – 6-3 Loss (SSM)
2001 – Juris Stals Result – 5-3 Loss (Plymouth)
2000 – Chris Berti Result – 4-2 Win (Kitchener)
1999 – Dusty Jamieson Result – 4-1 Win (Brampton)
1998 – Andrew Proscurnicki Result – 3-1 Win (SSM)