Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vanderwiel making most of opportunities


One man’s suspension is another man’s ice time.

When the Plymouth Whalers were recently hit with suspensions to Matt Mistele, Mitch Jones, Mitchell Dempsey and Cody Payne, rookie Danny Vanderwiel stepped up in a big way.

Vanderwiel scored four goals over a three games last weekend to increase his season total from one goal to five in a three-day span.

Two of the goals came on the big stage in London on Friday before a full house of 9,046. Although the Whalers lost, 8-6, while playing with just ten forwards and seven defensemen, Vanderwiel was named the second star.

Vanderwiel also scored in a 6-5 loss to Kitchener on Saturday and a 5-4 shootout win against Saginaw on Sunday.

“It was great,” Vanderwiel said of the experience of playing in London. “There are no words for that (experience) – it’s tough to explain. Not playing too much this year and going into London with three lines on the bench – all the boys are trying to go hard. To score a pair of goals, especially as a 16-year-old, is one of the greatest things I could ask for.”

Although one of Vanderwiel’s goal came on a snap shot from the right circle to beat London goaltender Michael Houser, the other three goals came as a result of going to the net hard and winning battles in gritty areas.

He scored his second goal in London by following up a wrap around at the left post and potting home the rebound through traffic, went hard to the net as he was being checked to score against Kitchener, then batted home a rebound just outside the blue ice against Saginaw.

Vanderwiel was quick to give Plymouth assistant coach Don Elland credit for his goal against Kitchener.

“Coach Don was telling me to go to the net, throw my body around and finish hard,” Vanderwiel said. “I saw 'Wales' (Michael Whaley) get the puck and so I put my head down and skated to the net, hoping that the puck would hit off my stick. It went in the net."

Like a good two-way passing play, Elland returns the compliment to Vanderwiel.

“It’s a great opportunity for him,” said Elland about Vanderwiel’s opportunity. “He’s taking advantage of it, he’s playing hard, he’s keeping it simple. Danny’s doing a good job and he’s getting better every week.”

Vanderwiel – from Island Lake, Ill. - was selected by Plymouth in the eighth round (144th overall) of the 2011 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

On an older team that is second overall in the Western Conference and chasing London for the top spot, Vanderwiel – along with fellow rookies Mistele, Dempsey and Jones – understand their roles on a very good team.

“All of the rookies – me, ‘Misty’ (Mistele), Dempsey and 'Jonsey' – have the right attitude,” Vanderwiel explained. “We understand that it’s a tough lineup to crack. We have guys like Stefan Noesen, J.T. Miller, Alex Aleardi, Rickard Rakell – a bunch of guys who are great players.”

For players like Vanderwiel, practice time is game time.

“Practices are big for all of us, Vanderwiel said. “(Head coach Mike) Vellucci sees when we’re working hard in practice and when we’re not. That’s what (working hard in practice) normally gives us our chance to play in a game.”

Whalers TV analyst Sean Baligian appreciates the attitude of all of the Plymouth rookies.

“So much can be said about a player’s talent,” Baligian said during Saturday's broadcast. “Sometimes, there’s not much said about a player’s character. The Whalers have been blessed to have so many good, young men come in here and get it – they don’t have a sense of entitlement.

“Danny could go play some place here this year, and probably score a million goals and a million assists. But you know what? He’s biding his time and he’s improving his stock. Good for him.”

And good for the Whalers.

Photo/Rena Laverty

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