Thursday, February 28, 2008

Plymouth plays three-in-three this weekend

The Plymouth Whalers (32-22-2-3) face another busy weekend and look to improve on their fifth-place standing in the competitive Ontario Hockey League Western Conference playoff race.

Here’s a closer look at the Whalers’ weekend:

Friday – Plymouth at Sarnia (32-26-0-2), 7:35 p.m. Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre. Sarnia has defeated Plymouth in three of four meetings this year, but the Sting is coming off a 9-0 defeat in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday at the Steelback Centre. Sarnia features Steven Stamkos (46-41-87), who could be selected first overall in this summer’s National Hockey League Entry Draft in Ottawa. Left wing Justin DiBenedetto (33-40-73) helps Stamkos up front and defensemen Ryan Wilson (6-55-61) and Mark Katic (4-25-29) provide offense from the blue line. Goaltender Andrew Perugini (2.95, .921) has missed two weeks with a groin injury suffered against Plymouth Feb.13 and could return Friday. If Perugini can’t play, Tomi Karhunen (3.59, .891) will be in goal for the Sting.

WHALERS OUTLOOK: Center Chris Terry (39-51-90, fifth in league scoring) leads the Whalers this month with 14 points. Terry leads the OHL with five shootout goals. Right wing Ryan Hayes (9-9-18 in 18 games) has given the Plymouth offense a shot in the arms just coming over from Boston College in January. Second-year center Vern Cooper (17-14-31) has picked up the pace over the second half of the season. NHL scouts continue to evaluate the Whalers’ draft-eligible players – AJ Jenks (25-22-47) and Michal Jordan (5-18-23, +9) – with interest. Plymouth goaltender Jeremy Smith (2.82, .921) is tied with Perugini for second place in the OHL in save percentage. The Whalers will play this weekend without suspended head coach Greg Stefan and defenseman Leo Jenner. Both will return Mar. 7 in Guelph. Injured defenseman Josh Bemis is close to returning from a broken wrist, but is still listed as day-to-day.

Saturday – Belleville (41-12-4-2) at Plymouth, 7:05 p.m. Compuware Arena. The Bulls roll into Plymouth as the OHL’s top team in the Eastern Conference and fourth overall in the Mosaik Mastercard Canadian Hockey League Top Ten Rankings. The Bulls come into the weekend 21-3-1-0 since Dec. 29.

Belleville features a deep roster, including goaltender Mike Murphy, who leads the OHL with a 2.26 goals against average and .930 save percentage. Montreal draft pick P.K. Subban (7-34-41) and Colorado draftee Nigel Williams (13-26-39) provide offense from the blue line, while NHL scouts are watching draft-eligible defenseman Shawn Lalonde (9-19-28, +30). Up front, Belleville has a veteran group, led by Florida prospect Shawn Matthias (27-44-71), Los Angeles draft choice Bryan Cameron (33-33-66), Detroit prospect Jan Mursak (16-47-63) and veteran Adam Perry (28-45-73). Belleville may play this weekend without Anaheim pick Matt Beleskey (40-43-83), who has a bad shoulder.

Sunday – Saginaw (30-23-4-2) at Plymouth, 2:00 p.m. Compuware Arena. Plymouth has won four of the six games so far with the Spirit. Saginaw comes into the weekend on a four-game winning streak, including a 3-1 victory over Kingston on Wednesday. Spirit goaltender Ryan Daniels (3.07, .906) has played very well over the last two months and has given Saginaw a lift. Veterans Jack Combs (38-51-89, +28), Ryan McDonough (40-40-80, +30) and Tomas Zaborsky (28-33-61) lead Saginaw offensively and the young Spirit blue line – led by T.J. Brodie (2-23-25), Adam Comrie (8-15-23, +14) and Nick Crawford (4-14-18) – improves as the season wears on.

Former Whaler and Jr. Wing Dan Pawlaczyk will be available for autographs and photos during the second intermission of Sunday's game against Saginaw.

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