Friday, November 07, 2008

Whalers struggling, still trying to find way

It’s fair to say that the Plymouth Whalers are going to have to work for every one of their wins and subsequent points this season.

That fact became evident last weekend. After losing to London, 6-3, last Friday at the John Labatt Centre, the Whalers came back with a 6-2 victory over Kitchener on Saturday at Compuware Arena and then lost, 4-3 in overtime, Sunday evening in Sarnia against the Sting.

“We are making some strides,” said Plymouth head coach Greg Stefan. “It’s slower than expected, but it (Kitchener win, Sarnia OT loss) is a bright spot. We’re working collectively as a team and I think that’s important. We have to have everybody on the same page with our work ethic and our game plan has to be structured. If you are cheating the system a little bit, we don’t have the players that are going to score a lot of goals. So we have to be stronger defensively, pay the price and earn our goals with hard work.”

On Saturday, Plymouth earned the victory by outworking Kitchener over the final 40 minutes.

Although Florida prospect AJ Jenks (Wolverine Lake) led the Whalers attack with a pair of goals as the game’s first star, Plymouth received excellent offensive balance in the victory.

Import defenseman Jan Látal scored his first OHL goal and added an assist as the game’s second star, while rookie Myles McCauley (Sterling Heights) scored his first OHL goal and fellow rookie Jamie Devane scored his second-ever OHL goal. Veteran Joe Gaynor scored his fourth goal of the season and defensemen Michal Jordan and Beau Schmitz (Howell) contributed two assists apiece in the Whalers victory.

“That was the game plan coming in,” Jenks said. “We wanted to get everyone going and make sure everyone was working together. It was a good team victory tonight. It’s great to see guys get their first goal, especially a guy like Jan – he was pumped up for that and we’re all happy for him. You can’t depend on the same people night after night – you have to get contributions from everyone.”

“Obviously, with AJ and Chris (Terry) our two top scorers, teams are going to try to shut them down and see if we can beat them with anybody else,” Stefan said. “When we have that contribution from others, we’re going to have some success. If we can play four lines like we did against Kitchener, we can have some success.”

Goaltender Matt Hackett earned points against Kitchener and Sarnia and continues to give the Whalers an excellent compliment to Jeremy Smith (Brownstown).

“Matt got a chance to play last year when Jeremy was at World Juniors and held himself pretty well,” Stefan said. “Then down the stretch last year when Jeremy got hurt, Matt got some good experience and played for us again. Right now, we need both guys to play well for us to have success.”

Like Hackett, count veteran defenseman Leo Jenner (pictured) among the bright spots on the Whalers blue line this season. Jenner has developed is a dependable stay-at-home defender who is usually first on the Whalers penalty kill.

“Leo’s an outstanding penalty killer,” Stefan said. “He reads the situation quite well; he’s pretty aggressive and obviously real strong. We count on him quite a bit and missed him when he was suspended (five-game suspension September 19). You could tell then it hurt us. With him back there, with his size and strength and his penalty killing, Leo’s real important for us.”

Even though he’s a Whaler pup, Schmitz continues to receive more ice time as the season unfolds. Schmitz skates well back at the blue line and Stefan realizes Schmitz is going through a bit of a learning curve. Justin DiBenedetto worked around Schmitz to score the game-winner in Sarnia 23 seconds into overtime on Sunday.

“Beau is getting tons of ice time and he’s only 17-years-old,” Stefan said. “When you have a 17-year-old defenseman in his first year in the league playing against the top lines of the other team, you’re going to have some growing pains. But all in all, we’re thrilled with Beau and he’s playing over 20-plus minutes per game, which is more than he was playing at the start of the year. There are going to be mistakes, even in overtime. And it wasn’t just him (on the play) – you want your goaltender to take away the short side. An overage player like DiBenedetto is going to do some damage.

“But having said that, we’re very happy with Beau’s development and he’s going to be an outstanding defenseman for us in the future.”

Watching Schmitz now might remind Whalers fans of the progress of Jordan. Almost a year to the day after coming to Plymouth, Jordan skated nearly 35 minutes on Sunday in Sarnia in his third game in three days and played well.

“Michal’s obviously our best defenseman and he’s going to be out there quite a bit,” Stefan explained. “Sometimes we don’t want him out there as much as we have to, but we are. He's capable and he wants to be out there. Hopefully, we can wean back some of his minutes. If we can do that, he’ll be more effective and then so will everyone else.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

No comments: