Thursday, March 18, 2010

Livingston ready to face old team

When you look at the upcoming Plymouth-Sault Ste. Marie first-round best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League playoff series, there isn’t much separating the Whalers and the Greyhounds.

The Whalers finished two points ahead of the Soo in the Western Conference race during the regular season. Both teams won a game in overtime. Both teams won a game in the other team’s building.

Sault Ste. Marie scored 16 goals over six games, Plymouth scored 14. No player on either side scored more than five points over the six-game series. Tyler Seguin led Plymouth with five points, while Jacob Muzzin and Brett Thompson scored five points to lead Sault Ste. Marie.

In goal, Matt Hackett recorded a 2.16 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in six games against the Soo. Greyhounds goaltender Robin Lehner compiled a 2.21 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in five games.

One man with a unique appreciation of both sides is Plymouth veteran James Livingston, acquired by the Whalers from the Soo at the OHL trade deadline.

“They pride themselves on their hard work,” Livingston said about his former team. “Their head coach, Denny Lambert, has been an extremely hard worker his whole career and he’s passed that along to the leadership group and the rest of the team. They definitely work for everything they’ve accomplished and have done well.”

After missing the playoffs last season with the Soo, Livingston is fired up to back in the OHL post-season, even against his old team.

“Missing the playoffs last year was tough,” Livingston admitted. “Anything this year was going to be better than last year. I’m really excited to go up and play my old team. Obviously, it’s going to be a battle, so you have to love that it's playoff time and I am definitely excited.”

In just a short time with Plymouth, Livingston already haunted his old team, scoring the game-tying goal in the third period last Friday in a 2-1 overtime loss in the Soo. The ‘Hounds needed to win the game in regulation to keep their hopes alive for fourth place and home ice advantage.

But Livingston had other ideas. Less than five minutes into the third period, Livingston skated to the right circle in the Soo zone, got a shot through traffic on Lehner, then followed up the rebound and scored on a backhand shot just outside the blue crease.

“Even in practice in the Soo, I didn’t beat Lehner very much, so it felt pretty good,” Livingston said. “I guess I was lucky because I managed to get the puck on net and then I saw the puck was out there (outside the crease on a rebound) and just threw it back on net again.”

When the goal was announced as Livingston’s, a number of pro-Soo fans cheered, which shows the impact Livingston had in the community.

“I guess I was up there long enough to be recognized by some fans,” he said. “It definitely felt good to hear the cheers. It’s nice to be recognized after you’ve put in a couple of years with a team. I loved Sault Ste. Marie, but this (Plymouth) is my new team, so I’m ready to go.”

Livingston has played with and shot against Hackett and Lehner.

“They’re both extraordinary goaltenders,” Livingston reports. “You play with a lot of confidence when the puck goes behind you with the both of them in net. It’s easy to play when they’re out there. It takes the pressure off the defensemen, especially.”

Plymouth fans will see Soo defenseman Jacob Muzzin is all important situations. Like Plymouth’s Joe Gaynor and Leo Jenner, Muzzin is in his fifth season in the OHL. And much like Gaynor and Jenner, Muzzin is a defensive specialist with some offensive upside who will be assigned to try to shut down Seguin.

Muzzin – signed by the Los Angeles Kings – overcame a serious back injury early in his career to become one the best defensemen in the OHL.

“Muzzin was one of my closest friends up there and is definitely a special defenseman,” Livingston said. “He’s worked extremely hard to get where he is now. He’s going to be given the hard task of trying to shut down Tyler Seguin. He’s going to have his work cut out for him and it should be interesting.”

Meanwhile, the Whalers welcomed back defenseman Michal Jordan back to the lineup Sunday.

“He did great, it was a good game to get him back in and get game tested,” Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci said. “He didn’t have any pain issues so that was very good.”

88.1 FM WSDP will carry the games in Plymouth on Friday and Saturday, starting at 6:40pm with the pre-game show.

Photo and text courtesy Plymouth Whalers

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