The Plymouth Whalers had every reason to be tired on Saturday night against Sarnia. They were playing their third game in three nights and coming off a 5-4 shootout loss to the Sting on Friday night at RBC Centre in Sarnia.
But a funny thing happened Saturday night at Compuware Arena. The Sting scored the first goal in the game, but the Whalers rebounded to tie the game, pull ahead and eventually dominate in a 6-2 victory over Sarnia before 2,907 at Compuware Arena.
The victory moves Plymouth into sole possession of first place in the OHL West with a record of 25-14-5-4, good for 59 points and two points ahead of Sarnia (27-18-0-3, 57 points). Sault Ste. Marie (26-19-2-2, 56 points) is third in the OHL West.
Mitchell Heard and Vincent Trocheck scored two goals and an assist each to lead the Plymouth attack. Heard - with his fourth and fifth goals of the season – was the game’s first star. Trocheck (28-29) was the game’s second star. Garrett Meurs (23) and Connor Carrick (10) scored the other Plymouth goals.
Not to be overlooked, but veteran defenseman Colin MacDonald was named the game's third star after going +3 on the evening and challenging Sarnia left wing Reid Boucher (league leading 40 goals) to a fight at 14:42 of the first period. Boucher and Charles Sarault were both -3 on the evening.
Taki Pantziris (2) and Craig Duininck (6) replied for Sarnia.
"We knew what we had to do tonight. It was a big game for first place," Heard said after the game. "We came up a little short last night, so we got some payback tonight. We came out flying and did all the little things. The puck went into the net early, and that helps the rest the game."
Pantziris gave Sarnia an early lead at 4:54 of the first period, but the Whalers pulled away, getting goals from Heard at 12:23 (shot from the right goal line) to tie the game, Trocheck at 13:58 (rip from the left circle that pinged inside the left post and the cross bar) to give Plymouth a 2-1 lead and Carrick at 16:37 (blast from the high slot after Heard won a battle for the puck against two Sarnia defenders and a good Stefan Noesen screen).
Plymouth effectively put the game away in the second period, outscoring Sarnia 3-1 in the period to lead 6-2 after forty minutes on goals by Meurs (0:17), Heard (7:47) and Trocheck (8:49).
All Plymouth goals in the second period came after the Whalers won battles for pucks.
Meurs scored after Trocheck took the puck off the mesh of the Sarnia goal at the mesh and fed Meurs in the slot, who made no mistake to give Plymouth a 4-1 lead. Heard's goal (a rip from the right circle) came as a direct result of Cody Payne stripping the puck away from a Sarnia defender and finding Heard.
1:02 later, Trocheck started and finished the play when he won a draw in the Sarnia zone and found Austin Levi at the point, who got the shot. Sarnia goaltender Knicholas Dawes made the save but allowed a rebound and Trocheck retreived the puck, held it to the right circle and snapped it home for at 6-2 Plymouth lead.
"We were using our bodies in the right way and getting on the right side of pucks," Heard said. "We moved the puck well and were communicating. A big thing we're trying to stress is communication and knowing where everyone is out there. We're becoming more of a team."
Although the third period was scoreless, the Whalers continued to pressure with an effective forecheck.
"We feel we have three or four lines here that can play well on any given night," Heard said. "So whoevers's going well is going to be playing. So there's a little competition among the boys. We're a team, but we all want to produce. So we're trying to work and go hard."
Indeed, the Whalers outworked Sarnia most of the game, outshooting the Sting, 40-25.
Plymouth remains home next weekend, hosting Sault Ste. Marie on Friday at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena and Peterborough on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena.