The Plymouth Whalers broke a 1-1 tie with four goals in the second period and the Whalers went on to defeat the Niagara Ice Dogs, 6-3, in an Ontario Hockey League game played Saturday night at Compuware Arena.
Plymouth improves to 2-1-1-1 on the season; Niagara is 5-2-0-0.
Tonight’s victory is Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci’s 400th career win. Vellucci is the winningest coach in Whalers franchise history and ranks third among active OHL coaches behind Belleville’s George Burnett (519) and Brampton’s Stan Butler (506).
Plymouth rookie goaltender Riley Corbin made his OHL debut a success as the game’s third star. Corbin stopped 27-of-30 shots for his first OHL victory.
In a game that featured 14 National Hockey League draft choices (nine for Plymouth and five for Niagara) - including six players taken in the first round of the 2011 and 2012 NHL Entry Drafts - the Whalers rebounded nicely from Friday's 5-4 loss in Guelph. Plymouth won battles for loose pucks all night long, kept the game simple and protected rookie goaltender Corbin.
While Stefan Noesen scored twice (4-5 on the season), the game’s first star was Plymouth’s Cody Payne, who scored his fourth goal of the year and assisted on linemate Matt Mistele’s second of the year - both in the second period – to give the Whalers a 3-1 lead. Alex Aleardi (2) and Garrett Meurs (2) also scored for Plymouth.
"It was a nice game to win," Payne said. "We had a rough game in Guelph and we should have won it. The boys really wanted this one and it was nice to get it in front of the home crowd. We did a lot of the little things right and it paid off."
Ryan Strome (5), Doug Hamilton (3) and Carter Verhaeghe (1) scored for Niagara. IceDogs' rookie goaltender Brent Moran made his first start in the OHL and stopped 29-of-34 shots.
Niagara and Plymouth traded a goal aside 13 seconds apart in the first period. Strome - a first round pick of the New York islanders - scored with a quick shot at 8:23 from the right circle that went five-hole on Corbin. Aleardi tied the game at 8:36, batting home a rebound just outside the blue ice on the left side of the Niagara goal.
The line of Payne, Mistele and Michael Whaley went to work in the second period to give Plymouth at 3-1 lead. Payne kept on the puck behind the Niagara goal, battled through traffic and scored just outside the blue ice on the right side of the goal at 2:16. Mistele extended the Plymouth lead to 3-1, scoring on a rebound on the left side of the IceDogs' net after Moran made a save on Payne.
"We worked at practice all week on that - jamming pucks to the net," Payne said. "It showed up tonight that if you put pucks on net, good things happen."
"We were just trying to to do little things and get puck in deep," said Mistele. "Both of our goals came by getting pucks deep and getting pucks on net and getting rebounds."
Hamilton cut the Plymouth leads to 3-2 at 7:43, but the Whalers came right back with sustained pressure when Tom Wilson's shot from the slot caromed off Noesen and into the net at 11:26. Meurs scored at 19:32, following up Wilson and Aleardi and scoring on a rebound in front of the Niagara goal.
The teams trade a goal aside in the third period - Verhaeghe at 2:13 and Noesen on the empty net with six second remaining.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Whalers rushed off the bench and mobbed their rookie goaltender.
Mistele lives with Corbin in Canton with billets Steve and Lori Plate and is happy for his teammate.
"He comes to practice every day and works hard," Mistele said. "I was excited to see him in net. I told him I was a little nervous for him this morning, but he held himself together real well. I'm real proud of him."
"Riley's been working hard all year, from training camp to preseason to now," said Payne. "He's a tough goalie to beat in practice and works hard every day. He deserved to win - he played real well and the boys are proud of him."
Plymouth outshot Niagara, 35-30.
The Whalers play in Owen Sound next Wednesday and in London on Friday before returning home on Saturday to host Sault Ste. Marie at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena.
PINK OUT COMING: The Whalers are teaming up once again with the Lucky Hair Company in Canton to get their hair dyed pink. Plymouth will report in two shifts on Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 9:30 a.m. and then again around 6 p.m. to the Lucky Hair Company.
The Lucky Hair Company is located at 45241 Cherry Hill Road in Canton. Call them at 734-844-8166.
The team event is an excellent media opportunity with plenty of photo and video ops of hockey players in pink hair.
The Whalers will play in pink hair on the road on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in Owen Sound and Friday, Oct. 12 in London before taking on the Greyhounds on Oct. 13.