The holidays are a time when depth plays an important factor in the success of Ontario Hockey League teams. With players away at the World Junior Championships - or at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge - depth often means the difference between winning and losing.
On Thursday afternoon - before another good crowd of 3,008 at Compuware Arena - Plymouth's depth beat Saginaw, 4-2.
Olympic gold medalist and Canton native Allison Schmitt dropped the puck before the game for a ceremonial faceoff.
Plymouth snaps a seven-game winless streak (0-3-2-2) and improves to 15-11-5-3, good for 38 points and sole possession of second place in the Ontario Hockey League’s West Division. Saginaw is now 14-17-3-2.
Tom Wilson’s power play goal at 11:40 of the second period snapped a 2-2 tie and stood as the eventual game-winner.
The Whalers are playing without Rickard Rakell (Team Sweden, World Junior Championships), Ryan Hartman (Team USA, WJC), Stefan Noesen (suspension) and Curtis Crombeen (injured). Saginaw played without Vince Trocheck (Team USA, WJC), Jake Paterson (Canada, WJC), Brandon Prophet (Ontario, World U-17 Challenge), among others.
Wilson – as the game’s third star – scored a goal (8) and an assist. First star Alex Aleardi also scored a goal (14) and an assist for the Whalers, while Plymouth goaltender Matt Mahalak stopped 47-of-49 shots as the game’s second star. Matt Mistele (14) and Connor Carrick (5) scored the other Plymouth goals.
Eric Locke (20) scored a shorthanded goal and Garret Ross (17) a power play goal for Saginaw.
Locke scored the only goal of the first period, wristing a shot from the left circle at 11:13 to give the Spirit a 1-0 lead after one period.
The Plymouth forward line of Wilson, Mistele and Cody Payne got to work in the second period, scoring a dirty goal to tie the game at 1-1 at 4:41 of the second period. The forward line kept the play alive around the Saginaw goal for an extended period and Mistele scored just outside the blue crease through traffic when referees Scott Hoberg and Steve McInchak allowed play to continue.
After Ross scored at 9:02 of the second period to give Saginaw a 2-1 lead with a hard shot from the hashmarks, the Whalers answered immediately on Aleardi’s goal 26 seconds later to tie the game on a low shot from the left circle past Spirit goaltender Nikita Serebryakov.
That set the stage for Wilson’s game’s winner at 11:40 on a well-executed play. Gianluca Curcuruto (at the left point) found Aleardi at the left goal line. Aleardi fed the puck to Wilson at the hashmarks, who snapped the puck home.
Saginaw came on the in third period, outshooting Plymouth, 19-9, but Mahalak played well. He made a big stop on Nathan Glass in the high slot moments before Carrick's insurance goal at 16:13 of the thrid period. Carrick beat Serebryakov with a shot from the left circle at 16:31.
Saginaw head coach Greg Gilbert pulled goaltender Serebryakov with 1:10 remaining and called a time-out with 15 seconds left and a faceoff in the Plymouth zone, but the Whalers killed the rest of the clock for a well-earned win.
Saginaw outshot Plymouth, 49-35.
The Whalers remain at home Saturday night, hosting London at 7:05 pm at Compuware Arena (6:45 pm, 88.1FM WSDP).
London comes into tonight’s game with Windsor with a 21-game winning streak. The OHL record is held by the 1983-84 Kitchener Rangers, who won 25 straight games.