Whalers Win Fifth in a Row and 13 of 14 in 7-5 Win Over Saginaw
Whalers now 39-17-5-4.
Rick Pracey is the Director of Amateur Scouting for the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche and has been a regular at Compuware Arena for years watching the Plymouth Whalers.
Sunday afternoon – before a good crowd of 3,094 at Compuware Arena - Pracey saw Colorado-drafts Garrett Meurs and Mitchell Heard lead Plymouth to a 7-5 victory over Saginaw for the Whalers’ fifth straight victory and their 13th win in their last 14 games.
The Whalers improve to 39-17-5-4, good for 87 points and first place in the OHL West Division and second overall in the Western Conference.
First star Garrett Meurs (taken by Colorado in 5th round in the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft) led Plymouth with a hat trick (28-29-30) and an assist and was +2 as the game’s first star. Mitchell Heard (taken by Colorado in the 2nd round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft) scored the game-winning goal for the Whalers (13), recorded an assist and was +3 as the game’s second star. Vince Trocheck (48), Sebastian Uvira (8) and Connor Sills (first OHL goal) also scored for Plymouth.
Dalton Young scored twice for Saginaw (5-6) with an assist as the game’s third star. Garret Ross (43), Eric Locke (44) and Justin Kea (22) also scored for the Spirit, now 31-28-3-3, fourth in the OHL West and eighth in the Western Conference.
Meurs' hat trick is his second in the OHL. His first hat trick came on Feb. 6, 2010 against Owen Sound when he was a rookie. His four-point game is his best offensive game of his Whalers career and he moved into 16th place on the Whalers' all-time career scoring list with 76 goals and 112 points for 188 points in 262 games for Plymouth.
Meurs has played on a line with Heard and Matt Mistele and the line has been effective over the last month or so for the Whalers. On a team that can go 12-deep with good forwards, Mistele leads the Whalers with 32 goals and Meurs right behind with 30.
"They're both great players," Meurs said of linemates Heard and Mistele. "Misty works so hard and that's why he's got many goals. And Mitch is a great worker. The way he can control the puck down low is unbelievable. I just try to work as hard as hard as I can and put pucks in."
Meurs scored his hat trick with three different type of goals. Meurs finished an excellent pass by Stefan Noesen to score on a backhand in the first period, intercepted a clearing pass from Saginaw goaltender Nikita Serebryakov in the second and then banked the puck off Serebrykov - severe angle, beyond the left goal line - in the third.
"It was a great pass by Noesen," Meurs said of his first goal. "He went hard and wide (left wing into the Saginaw zone) and I just went to the net and he hit me. (On the third goal), Riki (Rickard Rakell) tries that all the time. He's had success with that and sometimes, you have to try it, too."
With Plymouth having first place locked up, Whalers head coach Mike Vellucci sat Rakell, along with Tom Wilson and Colin MacDonald. Defenseman Mitch Jones returned to the lineup after suffering an injury on Jan. 5 and played a regular shift.
Vellucci and associate coach Joe Stefan tried different players in various situations. Sills scored his first OHL shorthanded to tie the game at 1-1 at 5:46 of the first period, taking Danny Vanderwiel's pass in the Saginaw zone, stretched as far as he could and re-directed the puck Serebryakov.
The Whalers broke a 2-2 tie after one period when Meurs scored at 3:29 of the second period and Trocheck later at 14:59 to lead 4-2. Meurs gave Plymouth a 5-3 lead early in the third period with his hat trick goal at 0:55. But Saginaw came back to tie the game at 5-5 on third period goals by Young (4:50) and Kea (6:30).
Heard scored the game-winner for the Whalers at 7:44, moving in on Saginaw goaltender Nikita Serebryakov, faking backhand and stuffing a shot, top shelf, to give the Whalers the lead for good. Uvira added an insurance goal at 18:35 of third period to close the scoring.
With Plymouth leading, 7-5, and 29 seconds left, Serebryakov pulled and a faceoff in the Plymouth zone, Saginaw head coach Greg Gilbert called time out to set offensive strategy.
Usually, Vellucci would put veterans on the ice to hold on the the lead. Today, Vellucci employed young defensemen Alex Peters and Jones along with a forward line of Michael Whaley, Vanderwiel and Sills for the final shift (with 17-year-old goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic).
The Plymouth young guys played well over the final 29 seconds and the Whalers continue to roll. Not only that, young players received some experience in a critical situation that could help somewhere in the near future.
Plymouth outshot Saginaw, 39-28.
The Whalers play in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday (7 p.m., 88.1 FM WSDP, www.plymouthwhalers.com) before finishing the regular season next weekend against Windsor, hosting the Spitfires on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena and then playing in Windsor next Sunday at 2:05 p.m. at Windsor Family Credit Union Centre.
Plymouth will then start the 2013 OHL Playoffs with home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the post season. The Whalers’ first playoff game is scheduled for either March 23 or March 24 at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena against an opponent to be determined.