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Whalers Keep An Eye on NHL Lockout While Preparing for OHL Season

Plymouth starts Friday in the Soo; Home opener is Saturday at 7:05 p.m. against Belleville

Plymouth Whalers sniper Stefan Noesen has earned the reputation as a creative player who can be a pain for opposing goaltenders.

This morning, Noesen tried a role reversal. He put on goalie equipment.

Noesen wasn’t looking to replace Matt Mahalak, Alex Nedejkovic or Riley Corbin in the Whalers' netminding rotation.  And he wasn’t trying to get into a goaltender’s psyche by putting on the pads or a full cage.

The veteran Whalers needed a goaltender during a pickup hockey game played with a tennis ball and Noesen – exhibiting excellent team spirit – decided to play goal for his teammates.

“Someone has to do it and Matty doesn’t want to go in the net,” Noesen said with a smile.  “We’re just having some fun out there, so I might as well put them on.  I’m going to try a two-pad stack.”

Although the National Hockey League lockout affects players currently in the league, it also affects Canadian Hockey League players who are NHL draft choices.

As such, the Whalers have ten players who – as NHL drafts – would be headed to NHL training camps this week in a normal year.  Instead, a group of talented Whalers remain in Plymouth preparing for Sault Ste. Marie in the season opener on Friday at Essar Centre and then the home opener on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena against Belleville.

An Ottawa draft, Noesen – like teammates and fellow first-round NHL picks Tom Wilson (Washington), JT Miller (NY Rangers) and Rickard Rakell (Anaheim) – has signed an entry level NHL deal and would like make another positive impression in a Senators’ training camp.  But it’s not going to happen in a lockout situation.

“I talked to my agent last night about it,” Noesen said.  “Hopefully, it will be resolved soon.  Everyone’s kind of itching to go to (pro) camps.  Right now, it’s postponed and I’m just hoping they can come up with something sooner rather than later.”

The NHL lockout may have a greater impact on free agent Alex Aleardi, who received an invitation to play for Columbus in the annual NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City. But because of the lockout, the tournament was cancelled.

After playing well at the Blue Jackets’ developmental camp this summer, Aleardi was looking forward to the Prospects Tournament.  Instead, he’ll continue to open eyes in Plymouth.

“Hopefully they’ll be no lockout and we’ll be able to go to Traverse City,” Aleardi said.  “If I have to come back to Plymouth, it won’t be a bad thing at all.”

The only Whaler away trying to win a job is Mitchell Heard, a second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche currently with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League.  It is not know at this time where he’ll play.  If he returns, he’ll take up an overage spot on the Plymouth roster. 

If you are new to the OHL, teams are allowed to carry three overages – that is, 1992 birthdays.  The Whalers overages this season are Colin MacDonald, Alex Aleardi and Heard, if he returns.

In many cases, the NHL’s loss due to the lockout is the OHL’s gain.  The league’s stars are starting the year in the OHL.

Some examples: Nail Yakupov – the top pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton – has been returned to Sarnia.  Doug Hamilton – the OHL’s Max Kaminsky Trophy winner as Defenseman of the Year – has been returned by the Boston Bruins.  Barrie center Mark Scheifele – a first round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2011 – returned last season to the Colts and is staying in Barrie. 

There are other examples throughout the Canadian Hockey League as well.

TICKET DEALS: The Whalers are offering a number of affordable ticket plans for all families and budgets.  Call (734) 453-8400 or go online towww.plymouthwhalers.com to find out more.

BROADCAST NOTES:  Both Plymouth games this weekend can be heard online on www.plymouthwhalers.com, with Saturday’s game  carried locally on 88.1 The Park WSDP.  Friday’s broadcast from Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie will start at 7pm; Saturday’s broadcast from Compuware Arena begins at 6:45pm.

A LOOK AT THIS WEEKEND'S OPPONENTS:  Neate Sager and Cam Charron of Yahoo! Sports Junior Hockey are profiling OHL teams.  Eventually, they'll get through the entire OHL.

Here's their take on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds:

"Soo general manager Kyle Dubas had a particularly busy offseason, acquiring 18-year-old defenceman Alex Gudbranson prior to the closing of the summer trade window, Dempsey and Dylan Mascarin on the day it re-opened, and then 17-year-old forward Jacob Smith during training camp."

See the rest of the preview.

Belleville is in on Saturday.  

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