Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whalers rookies starting to make an impression

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

It’s taken awhile this season, but it’s fair to say that the Plymouth Whalers are growing as a team.

Although the near future is bright, the team’s future next season may be even brighter.

Plymouth exploded for five unanswered goals in the third period last Saturday in a 6-2 victory over Belleville. Tyler Seguin – the Whalers first-round pick (ninth overall) last spring – led the Whalers attack with two goals and two assists as the game’s first star. Seguin added a goal and an assist the evening before in a come-from-behind 5-3 victory over Owen Sound.

The first star in the Owen Sound victory was defenseman Beau Schmitz – the Whalers first-round pick (19th overall) in 2007.

If you’ve watched the Ontario Hockey League for any amount of time, you know that rookies take a certain amount of time to get comfortable and start to play as well as advertised. That’s the case of Schmitz and Seguin, who was named Boston Pizza OHL Player of the Week Monday.

It’s fair to say that Schmitz (pictured) and Seguin are making a positive impact for the Whalers – sooner than later.

With Plymouth trailing 2-1 early in the second period against Owen Sound after Paul Bezzo scored at the 32-second mark of the second period, Schmitz came back 18 seconds later to re-tie the game with a shot from the right circle that beat Owen Sound goaltender Tyler Beskorowany at the far post.

“I’m not going to lie to you – I was shooting (for the) five-hole,” Schmitz said with a smile after the game. “Luck was on my side when I got that one. Every game I feel like I’m getting better. There’s always something I can improve on. I never want to be satisfied with my play. Every game, I’m feeling more comfortable.”

After Schmitz’s equalizer, the Whalers pulled away for a 5-3 victory.

Schmitz wasn’t a star in the Belleville game, but he made an impact right off the bat in the first period when he leveled Bulls left wing Matt Tipoff with a clean check. Tipoff hobbled to the Belleville dressing room and didn’t return.

Meanwhile, the Whalers had their hands full with Belleville goaltender Mike Murphy, who had stopped 49-of-50 Plymouth shots in a 3-1 victory in Belleville on January 10. Murphy – who came into the game with a 2.01 goals against average and .944 save percentage – was well on his way to a similar kind of performance on Saturday through forty minutes, having stopped 37-of-38 Plymouth shots. The only Plymouth goal over the first two periods came from Seguin, as he deflected Chris Terry’s pass at the side of the Bulls net at 16:53 of the first period.

But Seguin led the Whalers charge in the third period. Plymouth tied the game on Joe Gaynor’s goal at 3:21 of the third period, set up by Seguin, who blew by a Belleville defender on the right wing of the Bulls zone and got the shot on Murphy. Gaynor followed up and banged home the rebound. AJ Jenks gave Plymouth its first lead at 4:00 when he rifled the puck from the right circle past Murphy. Fifteen seconds later, Seguin extended the Plymouth lead to 4-2 after Josh Bemis’ shot from the left point was stopped by Murphy. Terry picked up the puck at the left circle and found Seguin at the right hashmark. Matt Caria scored to give Plymouth at 5-2 lead at 6:06 after accepting Seguin’s pass from the right ring in tight on the left doorstep and beating Murphy.

At that point, Belleville head coach George Burnett pulled Murphy in favor of Phillipp Grubauer. Ryan Hayes closed out the scoring with a power-play goal at 12:28 of the period with a hard shot from the high slot.

“Before the third period, in the dressing room we talked about how we need these two points for the standings and the Western Conference race,” Seguin said. “We went out there and played our game, won the period and won the game. We’re really gelling as a team. Everyone’s playing their own style of game. We’re all coming together and playing a hard sixty-minutes and getting some victories.”

Plymouth assistant coach Brian Sommariva pointed out that the Whalers made some adjustments before the start of the third period.

Mike (Vellucci), Joe (Stefan) and I talked about how we thought Belleville’s forwards weren’t back checking as well, so we wanted to activate our defensemen in the rush,” Sommariva explained. “We wanted to create some scoring chances with our fourth or fifth guy, so we told the players that and we said that this was a game we feel we should win. We out-chanced them the last time we played them (on January 10) and we out-chanced them tonight. We wanted to capitalize on that in the third period.”

The Whalers hit the road for 10 of their last 15 games, starting this week with a game in Saginaw on Wednesday, in Sudbury on Friday, in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday and in Sarnia on Friday, February 20 before returning home on Saturday, February 21 against Erie and Sunday, February 22 against Saginaw.

“We have to come out against average, or not top teams and we have to play hard every game and win every point,” Seguin said. “With this long stretch coming up until playoffs, we have to play our game and win as much as we can.”

DEVANE STARTING TO MAKE AN IMPACT: Add Whaler pup Jamie Devane to the mix of young players who are starting to make an impact. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds – and still growing – Devane has started to see some time on the Whalers power play. If he doesn’t get a scoring chance, Devane clogs up the area around the opposition’s net effectively. He drew several penalties during the third period against Belleville and did not retaliate.

Devane’s lanky frame and style of play – with four goals, 71 penalty minutes and 11 fighting majors – might remind some Whaler fans of Tom Sestito, who literally grew up before our eyes and led Plymouth’s championship team two years ago with 42 goals.

“The season is going well,” Devane said Saturday. “You try to get your team going with a fight sometimes when you’re down. The skill part is coming – it takes a bit of time to get used to the speed and the skill. I’m getting used to it now and I like it. I came back after Christmas and felt a lot more comfortable. I started to get more ice (time). It’s been good.”

Devane turns 18 on February 20 and is eligible for this summer’s National Hockey League Entry Draft, held June 26-27 in Montreal.

“I try not to think about it too much," Devane admitted. “I try to go hard every night, because if they’re up there (NHL scouts) watching, they’ll be able to see me.”

Another Whaler pup – defenseman Austin Levi – got a chance to play against Owen Sound and Belleville and did not look out of place. He recorded his first OHL point on Saturday when he assisted on Seguin’s first goal of the night in the first period.

“We’ve got some great young players in the system,” said Sommariva. “As they develop, time is going to show that this will be a good team for awhile.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch

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