Photos by Metcalfe Photography
With only a month and a half left in the regular season, the Sarnia Sting is looking to get back to the way they played earlier in the year.
Look no further than Friday night against the Plymouth Whalers, one of the top teams in not only the Ontario Hockey League, but the Canadian Hockey League as well.
The Sting scored three times in the second period and skated to a well-deserved 4-1 victory over the Whalers in front of 3,609 pleased fans at the RBC Centre.
The win, Sarnia’s second in a row, improved their overall record to 25-19-1-5.
Plymouth is second overall in the Western Conference and had a four-game winning streak snapped. The Whalers have lost just eight of their last 37 games dating back to late October.
The win was especially gratifying considering the Sting was minus three regulars.
Nail Yakupov was ruled ineligible for two games for not attending the CHL Prospects Game in Kelowna, B.C. on Wednesday. That announcement came earlier in the day from CHL and OHL commissioner David Branch.
Sarnia was also missing two defencemen in Adrian Robertson (concussion) and Craig Duininck (foot).
“Systems-wise the kids played real well,” said Sting head coach, Jacques Beaulieu. “We took their speed away, we clogged up the neutral zone and we got some timely scoring. Anytime you allowed just 12 shots on goal after two periods, there’s a good chance you are going to win hockey games. We played well defensively and let our skill take over.”
The win evened the season-series between the two teams at two wins apiece with two more games to go.
“I feel we’ve played well against them all season,” said Beaulieu. “If there was one bad game it might have been that 4-1 loss, but we were shorthanded. We know they are a good hockey team and the guys get geared up for them.”
Ludvig Rensfeldt continued his fine play for the Sting scoring two goals, including the winner, and was named the game’s first star.
“Rensfeldt was real good tonight and has played well ever since returning from the world juniors. You can see his confidence level growing and he’s making good decisions with the puck. He and (Brett) Thompson) have developed some chemistry with one another and with the addition of (Craig) Hottot, that was our best line,” Beaulieu said.
Sarnia scored the only goal of the first period at 12:11 when Rensfeldt poked in a loose puck in the crease after a point shot.
It was the second period where the Sting dominated, outshooting the Whalers 16-6 and scoring three goals.
Rensfeldt scored what turned out to be the game-winner at 3:41 with his 16th goal of the season. He took a pass from Brett Thompson and re-directed the puck between the legs of goalie Scott Wedgewood.
Five minutes later Sarnia took a 3-0 lead when Reid Boucher ended a 12-game goal-less drought when he backhanded a rebound home from close range. It was Boucher’s 22ndgoal of the season. Ryan Spooner and Tyler Brown drew assists.
Defenceman Connor Murphy increased the lead to 4-0 with less than two minutes left in the period. He took a pass from Charlie Sarault and drilled home a high slapshot from the point for his fifth goal of the season and second in as many games.
Sting goalie J.P. Anderson lost his shutout bid at 1:24 of period three when Stefan Noesen scored on a backhander from in close.
But Anderson shut the door after that. He was solid throughout the game stopping 21 of 22 shots he faced.
Sarnia fired 29 shots at Wedgewood.
Sarnia was zero-for-four on the power play, but more important gave up just one power play opportunity to the Whalers and that came late in the third period.
The game was the only one for the Sting this weekend as they prepare for five straight on the road, including three next weekend in Barrie, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.
“We need to continue to grow as a group,” said Beaulieu. “This time this weekend is going to give us some time off where guys can go home and relax. We know it’s going to be hectic down the stretch.”
The Sting has just 18 games remaining before playoffs.
Sarnia’s next home game is not until Monday, Feb. 20th when they host the London Knights at 2 p.m. in the annual Family Day game.
– Rensfeldt was first star with Alex Basso second star and Anderson third star. Basso was forced to wear a cage for two periods after taking a stick to the face. Domenic Alberga was named the Dickies hardest-working player.
– Thompson assisted on both Rensfeldt goals.
– National Hockey League Hall of Famer, Ted Lindsay was on hand to drop the ceremonial puck. Lindsay, now 86, played 17 seasons in the NHL and helped the Detroit Red Wings win four Stanley Cups.
– The entire Sting team will be at Home Depot on Saturday from 1-2:30 p.m. to sign autographs. There will also be prizes.
– Sarnia is now 19-0-0-1 when leading after two periods.
– The Sting had two rookies dressed, Davis Brown from the Strathroy Rockets while Daniel Nikandrov, a member of the Sarnia Legionnaires, played his first ever OHL game. Brown was a third round pick and Nikandrov a fourth round selection back in May.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games both home and away and also does features for the Sting Website.