Coming off a tough, three-game Eastern Ontario road trip, things don't get much easier for the Sarnia Sting as they play two home games this weekend in the Ontario Hockey League.
The Sting hosts the Saginaw Spirit Friday night and the Kingston Frontenacs Saturday night. Both games begin at 7:05 p.m. at the RBC Centre.
Saginaw has the second best record in the league at 15-4-1-1 as they sit atop the Western Conference. The Spirit also sports one of the best road records at 9-3-1-1.
Sarnia and Saginaw has played twice so far this season. The Spirit posted a 4-3 overtime victory at home the last week of October while Saginaw defeated Sarnia 7-5 two weeks ago at the RBC Centre.
Sarnia takes on Kingston Saturday night for the second and final time this season. The game is a re-match from last Sunday in Kingston where the Frontenacs rallied from a two-goal deficit with just over a minute remaining to edge the Sting 6-5 in overtime.
Kingston holds down fourth spot in the Eastern Conference with a 13-6-1-0 record with a respectable 7-3-0-0 mark on the road. Former National Hockey League star Doug Gilmour is in his second season behind the bench for the Frontenacs.
"This is a big test for our hockey club," says Sting captain Nathan Chiarlitti. "We are playing two really good teams. Both are good offensive teams so we have to be patient and also be sound defensively."
He added, "Saginaw has a lot of depth throughout their lineup, but especially their forward lines. We should have won at Kingston. We let that one slip away. We need to play 60 minutes of hockey against both Saginaw and Kingston instead of going in spurts."
Sarnia is at the .500 mark with a 9-9-3-0 as they hold the seventh spot in the Western Conference. They took three of six points during last week's road trip.
Two members of the Sting rank in the top 10 in league scoring. Rookie Nail Yakupov is currently tied for third place with 35 points as he has 17 goals and 18 assists. Jason Akeson of Kitchener is the leader with 10 goals and 31 assists for 41 points while Garrett Wilson of Owen Sound is second with 19 goals and 17 assists for 36 points.
Kale Kerbashian of the Sting is seventh in league scoring with 13 goals and 20 assists for 33 points.
There has been plenty of news off the ice this weekend involving the Sting.
Forward Jesse Stoughton was placed on waivers this week. No one claimed him and he has signed with the Georgetown Raiders of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Ex-Sting assistant Greg Walters coaches the Raiders.
Stoughton was in his third season with the Sting after being signed as a free agent. The 19-year-old had just five assists in 19 games this season. He was a healthy scratch in Kingston last Sunday.
The departure of Stoughton leaves 22 players on the roster, two goalies, eight defencemen and 12 forwards.
Sarnia's other rookie import Nick Latta has been named to the Germain Under-20 team that will compete in the 2011 IIHL World Junior Championships in Buffalo. The tournament takes place Dec. 26th through Jan. 5th.
Latta, 17, is expected to be one of the youngest players in the tournament. The Germain team will meet for a pre-championship camp Dec. 18th in Buffalo. They will play two exhibition games against the Czech team Dec. 21st and 24th before going to Buffalo.
Latta has five goals and two assists in 20 games with the Sting this season.
He joins former Sting players, Steven Stamkos, Trevor Letowski, Dan Fritsche, Alex Buturlin and Mathis Olimb who have represented their counties in this event.
Rookie forward Garrett Hooey of the Sting is one of 21 OHL players chosen to represent Team Ontario at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Dec. 29th to Jan. 4th in Winnipeg.
Hooey was Sarnia's second round pick in this year's OHL Priority Selection Draft. He has two goals and two assists in dressing in all 21 games so far this season. Head coach of Team Ontario is Jake Grimes of the Belleville Bulls.
– Yakupov's father, Rail, along with his uncle Niyaz arrived in Sarnia earlier this week from Russia and will be here for the next 10 days.
– There will be a post-game skate for all Sting fans with the players after Saturday's game with Kingston.
– The buffets this week at Coyote Jacks Restaurant inside the RBC Centre include the fan favorite roast beef on Friday and a Tour of Italy Saturday. Calling 519-541-1000, Ext. 112, can make reservations.
– Former NHLer Kraig Nienhuis of Sarnia will be performing live at Coyote Jacks following Friday night's game.
– Tickets are available for both weekend games by calling the RBC Centre at 519-541-1717 or by going online at Sarniasting.com.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games both home and away and also does features from the Sting Website.