In time, first round pick Zach Bratina and second round pick Alex Peters are expected to play significant roles with the Plymouth Whalers.
Injuries and suspensions late in the first half have given both more ice time and have moved up the time table. Although the stats don’t show it yet, Peters (seven assists over 23 games) and Bratina (three goals and four assists in 33 games) are playing well for the Whalers and will be expected to continue to improve once the second half starts on Dec. 27 against Saginaw.
Both are making the adjustment to a bigger, faster and stronger league.
First-half injuries to Curtis Crombeen, Nick Malysa and Austin Levi gave Peters his ice time and he’s made the most of it.
Although associate coach Joe Stefan rotates his defensemen so that they all play together at one time or another, Peters is often paired with veteran Gianluca Curcuruto and the duo has played well.
“He’s got a lot more experience than I do, so he sets the guidelines of what we’re supposed to do,” Peters said of Curcuruto. “It’s really good playing with him – he’s got a good shot and is a really good player. So it’s really nice to have a good partner like that.”
Like a lot of first-year players, Peters was a healthy scratch early in the season
“Injuries happen and unfortunately some of our teammates are hurt,” Peters said. “But other players have to step up. A couple of us have had to play a lot more and I think we’ve done a good job. A lot of it is just confidence, believing you deserve to be out there and are a good enough player to be out there. If you feel you can play out there, you are going to feel good.”
All Plymouth players of high-school age attend the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park. Although the young Whalers finish early at 1:15 p.m. and report to practice by 1:45 p.m. at Compuware Arena, getting up earlier and attending a school system that is akin to going to a small city is an adjustment.
“It is a full day, waking up earlier than my school at home and putting in a full day,” Peters said. “It’s (PCEP) a lot bigger, so there’s a lot more walking. It’s a big adjustment, but I think we’re dealing with it well.”
Peters had an advantage that many Whaler pups don’t have. His older brother, Justin, played with the Whalers in 2005-06, so Alex was already familiar with the city and the surrounding area. An added bonus is he is staying with the same billet family – Tom and Margaret Predhomme – that his older brother did.
“When my brother was here, I liked the arena and the city and am happy to be here now,” Peters said. “That helped a lot. I’m living with the same billet family so that is a help. They’re a good family, so it was real easy.
Zach Bratina has learned that in the Ontario Hockey League, you to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score goals.
“It’s definitely different, playing with the bigger bodies on the ice,” Bratina admitted. “You have to go to the dirty areas (of the ice), go to the net and the goals will come. I try to use my speed to get around people. It’s been good so far.”
Bratina’s three goals - against Sarnia on Nov. 3, Windsor on Nov. 21 and in Erie on Nov. 28 – are the result of going to the net and competing around and through traffic.
“The biggest adjustment for me was the size and the speed of the players,” Bratina said. “Even the game-style is a lot different – there’s a lot more dump-and-chase and body-on-body down low. It’s been a lot different.”
The Christmas Break is the longest amount of time the Whalers will not be on the ice over the course of the season. Most of the time, Plymouth players hit the ice every day.
“It’s is pretty much every day,” Bratina admitted about practice time. “We might get the odd day off, but it’s a lot harder on the body and you need to recover quickly.”
Watch any Whaler practice, and you’ll find players staying on the ice afterwards, working on individual skills. That’s when assistant coach Don Elland gets into action. Elland works with many of the Whaler pups and the improvement comes in time.
“Don’s been tremendous,” Bratina said. “He’s helped me in so many ways – in the corners, learning how to protect the puck. After practice, he’s takes a few guys and works with them individually. He’s been awesome.”
Older Whalers often drive Whaler pups (some who do not have a driver’s license or a car) to school. Mitch Jones and Tom Wilson are examples.
Like Peters, Bratina has taken to his new school well.
“It’s a huge adjustment,” Bratina said. “My old school had maybe a 1,000 kids, but this one has 7,000. The city is a lot bigger than where I came from.
COMING UP: The Whalers are home on Thurs. Dec. 27 at 2 p.m. against Saginaw (1:45 p.m., 88.1FM WSDP) and Sat. Dec. 29 at 7:05 p.m. against London (6:45 p.m., 88.1 FM WSDP).
TEDDY BEAR NUMBERS: Thanks to all Whaler fans who literally pitched in during Plymouth’s annual Teddy Bear Toss on Dec.1 against Kitchener. Over 2,000 stuffed animals have been collected for the Plymouth Community United Way.