Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chemistry clicking for newest Whalers

By Pete Krupsky/Plymouth Whalers

In another life and profession, I was a chemist in the refining industry. One of my jobs was to experiment with new and existing compounds to try to make improved coal-tar products.

Some experiments went very well and may still be used in a business I’m no longer part of. Others literally blew up in my face. I didn’t mind the explosions nearly as much as the clean-up of my laboratory afterwards.

Plymouth Whalers president, general manager and head coach Mike Vellucci isn’t a chemist, but he knows a few things about building a successful team. When Vellucci acquired veteran center Matt Caria from Sault Ste. Marie December 9 in exchange for three draft choices, he was looking for a talent to click with Whalers captain Chris Terry.

“Anytime you can acquire a talent of Caria’s caliber without giving up a player from your lineup, it’s a plus,” Vellucci said. “I’m really excited to see how Caria and Chris Terry mesh together.”

After making his Whalers debut December 10 in a 5-2 victory over Saginaw, Terry and Caria had chemistry together for the first time two games later in a 5-2 win over Kitchener during the Whalers’ Teddy Bear Toss Night December 13.

Playing on a line together with Patrick Lee first and later with Kaine Geldart, Caria and Terry clicked for three points each – Caria as the game’s first star with two goals and an assist and Terry the game’s second star with a goal and two helpers.

“As a team, I think we worked hard,” Caria said after the game. “We concentrated on the backcheck and the forecheck and played a solid game. Terry is such a skilled player I knew once we got one goal, things would start to open up. I also have to give credit to Lee, who jumped into the play and got a couple of points with us and also Geldart was in on a goal. It doesn’t matter who we have out there – we’re all capable of making plays.”

Caria and Terry have put up similar offensive numbers during their time in the Ontario Hockey League. Through December 13, Caria has 77 career goals with 126 assists for 203 points; Terry has 90 goals with 136 assists for 226 points. It makes sense that given time, the two veterans would start to click together.

And in the tight Western Conference race – where one loss can move a team from seventh overall to tenth and a victory goes the other way – adding a key veteran can make a difference.

But Vellucci wasn’t finished adding players. After the Saginaw victory on December 10, Vellucci acquired overage defenseman Scott Fletcher from Niagara.

While Caria is a proven point producer, Fletcher works on the other end of hockey periodic table. In 203 OHL games in his career, Fletcher has scored one goal with nine assists for 10 points and 561 penalty minutes. Fletcher started the season with Providence of the American Hockey League before returning to Niagara.

Fletcher, from Haslett, was originally selected by Saginaw in the second round (22nd overall) in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection and was traded to Niagara in 2007.

Although some fight fans see Fletcher as a one-way player – YouTube is filled with his fights – he can play the game and takes a thinking man’s approach to a sometimes dirty job.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help this team,” Fletcher said. “I’m not a rusher, but I can play solid defense on the back end. If there’s a problem on the ice, where a guy needs to be taken care of, I’ll be there one-hundred percent for my teammates.

“There’s always a time and a place for a fight, but there’s also a place for a big check or being strong along the boards. You can also be tough by not taking stupid penalties and by being smart in you own zone.”

The Whalers finish up before Christmas with three games on the road – December 17 in Owen Sound, December 18 in Barrie and December 19 in Mississauga. Plymouth opens up after Christmas with a pair of home game – December 27 against Saginaw and then December 29 at 2 p.m. against Sarnia.

Plymouth will get their first look at the brand-new Windsor Family Credit Union Arena in a New Year’s Eve matinee.

Plymouth will play the rest of the month without Michal Jordan (pictured), who was selected to try out for the Czech National Team to play in the upcoming World Junior Championship and without Tyler G. Brown, who is out until January with a broken finger.

Vellucci has until the January 9 OHL trade deadline to continue to tinker with the Whalers' lineup.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

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