Mike Vellucci’s 399th career victory as head coach of the Plymouth Whalers was memorable for a number of reasons.
The Whalers played with a shorthanded bench all night but outworked the Sudbury Wolves, 6-2, in an Ontario Hockey League game played Saturday night before 3,144 at Compuware Arena in Plymouth Township.
Plymouth (now 1-0-1-1) extended a 1-0 lead after one period to lead 5-0 after forty minutes.
Two of Plymouth's first-round National Hockey League draft picks led the way offensively. Rickard Rakell (first round, Anaheim, 2011) was the game's first star, scoring his first two goals of the year along with an assist. Tom Wilson (first round, Washington, 2012) was the game's second star with his first two goals of the year. Matt Mistele scored his first goal of the season and was +4, while Cody Payne (fifth round, Boston, 2012) scored his second of the year.
Defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto contributed three assists for the Whalers, who started the game without JT Miller (Connecticut Whale, American Hockey League), Ryan Hartman (CCM/USA Hockey Prospects Game) and Connor Sills (suspension).
Then, Danny Vanderwiel left the game in the first period with an injury and Stefan Noesen and Alex Aleardi did not play after the first period.
Plymouth at times played with just six forwards over the final forty minutes with Mitch Jones and Curtis Crombeen taking turns up front – and the Whalers were still able to pull away decisively in the second period, chasing starting Sudbury goaltender Joel Vienneau after Wilson made the score 3-0 at the 7:26 mark of the second frame.
The Whalers scored the only goal of the first period on Mistele’s re-direct at 4:54 of the first period, set up by Garrett Meurs’ work along the boards in the Sudbury zone and rookie Alex Peters’ accurate low shot from the left point.
Not to be overlooked, Plymouthgoaltender Matt Mahalak’s best work came in the first period when the Wolves were their most dangerous. Mahalak stopped all 12 shots he faced in the period and 27-for-29 in the game to lower his goals against to 3.24 while raising his save percentage to 0.890 over three games.
“Matty played great,” Rakell said. “It’s nice to have a goaltender that gives the whole team confidence. Our “D” played great, too, by making the first good pass out of the zone.”
“We’re a tight group of guys in here,” said Payne. “It’s a good feeling when you work hard and get rewarded. We were getting puck on net and winning battles.”
Plymouth’s four-goal outburst came in a span of 2:44 in the second period. Rakell started it, banking the puck off goaltender Vienneau at the right post as he skated by the Sudbury net to give Whalers a 2-0 lead. Sandwiched between Rakell’s goals was Wilson’s pair at 7:26 and 8:34. Wilson’s second goal was Plymouth's first power play goal of the year. Then Rakell finished the barrage at 9:28, scoring on a shorthanded breakaway to give Plymouth a 5-0 lead.
Rakell said the bank shot off the goaltender was planned.
“A lot of goaltenders cheat for (defending) the pass,” Rakell said. “On the second goal, we have a lot of practice on breakaways. I saw what I wanted to do it and it worked that time.”
In spite of short numbers, the game moved dramatically inPlymouth’s direction in the second period.
“Everybody stepped up and played as hard as they could,” Rakell said. “It shows that when everyone gives 100 percent and plays their game, we can be successful. When everyone keeps working, it gives you the energy to keep working for the team."
Justin Sefton (first) and Sam Schutt (first) scored third period goals for Sudbury to cut the Plymouth lead to 5-2 before Payne replied just outside the Sudbury blue crease at 10:32 to close out the scoring.
Plymouth outshot Sudbury, 32-29.
Plymouthis off until next Friday when they play in Guelph. The Whalers next home game is next Saturday at 7:05 p.m. against Niagara.