One of the biggest crowds in the history of the Sarnia Sting witnessed their team knock off the number one ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League.
Despite being shorthanded seven regulars, the Sting skated to a well-deserved 6-2 victory over the London Knights, Monday afternoon before a sell-out crowd of 5,100 fans at the RBC Centre.
Not since the 1999-2000 season when over 5,000 fans witnessed a game seven playoff game, has there been this many fans in attendance.
And the Family Day crowd got their monies worth and then some as the Sting took a 2-1 lead after one period and extended that lead to 4-2 after 40 minutes.
When asked if it was his team’s biggest win of the season so far, Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu responded in this fashion.
“It’s probably our biggest gut-check win as a team. We challenged the kids before the game that they needed to be at their best, not only as individuals, but also within the team concept. We know we would be shorthanded. I thought it was a really good effort by everyone.”
Beaulieu added, “I thought Charlie Sarault was the best player on the ice. He won face-offs and played very well defensively. J.P. Anderson had a solid game in goal and gave us a chance to win.”
Overager Brett Thompson led the Sting offence with two goals and one assist and was named the game’s first star.
“We were playing hurt and we battled through a lot of adversity today. One of our biggest problems in recent games was allowing the other team to score first. Today we got up 2-0 and that was a big confidence builder.”
He added, “I haven’t been playing my best hockey lately, but today I was focused and ready to go.”
Beaulieu said Thompson provided the right leadership.
“We went out and got him to score goals. But he is also a very unselfish player. He played hurt today. You saw him on crutches after the game in Saginaw. He’s a character kid and showed it today.”
Thompson assisted on rookie Daniel Nikandrov’s first OHL goal in the third period.
“I know the kid was excited,” said Thompson. “I remember my first OHL goal and I’m sure he’s going to remember his.”
Nikandrov, a fourth round pick of the Sting, who is playing with the Sarnia Legionnaires this season, played a regular shift on the third line in only his fifth OHL game.
“It’s awesome to score a goal even though it was a bit of a battle to score into an empty net. It was a battle today. We were shorthanded and we had to put in our best effort to get two points.”
Nikandrov says there is a big difference between the OHL and Junior B.
“The game is much faster, the players are stronger and certainly more skilled. It’s just a much better brand of hockey. It’s taken me a few games to adjust.”
Thompson got the Sting off on the right foot with a power play goal at 7:32 of period one on a soft backhander from close range. Ryan Spooner staked Sarnia to a 2-0 lead with another power play goal at 9:40. It was his 24th of the year.
London cut the lead to 2-1 at 18:50 when Max Domi scored on a rebound.
What turned out to be the winning goal came 58 seconds into period two when Connor Murphy drilled home a slapshot from the right point. Murphy, who was rock solid on the blue line, has now scored in back-to-back games and has seven on the year.
London closed the gap to 3-2 at 7:06 on a goal by Josh Anderson, but Thompson restored the two-goal cushion a minute later with his 27th of the year.
Thompson found himself behind the London defence and he made a quick deke before firing a low shot past goalie Michael Houser.
The score remained 4-2 until the 11:55 mark of the third period when Nail Yakupov scored another one of his highlight reel goals bringing the large crowd to its feet.
Yakupov, who has not played a home game since Dec. 11th, skated with speed into the London zone, used the defenceman as a screen and snapped a quick hot over the shoulder of Houser for his 27th marker of the year.
After the Sting killed a two-man disadvantage for a minute and 30 seconds, Nikandrov scored a shorthand, empty net goal at 16:30. Nkandrov outmuscled the Knights defender in the corner and skated untouched to the front of the net to score easily.
Anderson was solid in goal for the Sting stopping 34 of 36 shots he faced while Houser faced 27 shots in goal for London.
The Sting played without seven regulars. The latest to go down is Craig Hottot, who suffered an upper body injury in Saginaw Saturday. He could be out two to three weeks. Others sidelined with injuries include Craig Duininck, Nathan Chiarlitti, Adrian Robertson, Alex Basso, Nick Latta and Alex Galchenyuk.
Sarnia played with five defencemen, one of them being rookie Mike Dipaolo, up from the Legionnaires.
The win moved Sarnia back into fourth place in the Western Conference of the Ontario Hockey League with 64 points, one up on Owen Sound. Sarnia still has a game in hand.
The Sting travel to Owen Sound on Wednesday to battle the Attack before returning home for a pair of games this weekend.
The Sting host Windsor Spitfires Friday night and the Guelph Storm Saturday night. Both games begin at 7:05 at the RBC Centre.
Tickets for both games are on sale daily at the RBC Box Office, by calling 519-1717 or going online at Sarniasting.com
– Thompson was first star with Murphy second star and Spooner third star. Tyler Brown was the Dickie’s hardest-working player of the game.
– Only two Sting players have played in all 56 games this season. They are Sarault and DeAngelo.
– The big crowd also witnessed a marriage proposal by video screen in the third period. The bride accepted.
– Don’t forget you can listen to all Sting games on Country 103.9 CHOK Radio.
– Sarnia has now won two of five games with London. They meet one more time in London next month.
– Sarnia’s home record improved to 16-7-1-3. London lost on the road for only the fifth time in 26 games.
– The Sting is 22-0-0-1 when leading after two periods.
– The Sting wore red and white jersey in support of Heart and Stroke Foundation. The jerseys are available to purchase by auction at sarniasting.com
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games both home and away and also does features for the Sting Website.