Whalers Build 4-1 Lead After One, Beat Belleville, 4-3
Photo - (from left) Dario Trutmann and Colin MacDonald celebrate in the first period in the Whalers 4-3 win over Belleville Friday night at Compuware Arena
PLYMOUTH - In a battle of first place teams, the Plymouth Whalers built a 4-1 lead after one period of play and withstood a late Belleville rally to beat the Bulls, 4-3, in an Ontario Hockey League game played Friday night at Compuware Arena.
The Whalers improve to 20-8-2-1, good for 43 points and in first place in the OHL's West Division. Plymouth picked up ground on second-place Sarnia (now 17-8-1-4, 39 points), who lost, 7-3, to the Erie Otters on Friday. The Otters won just their fourth game of the season and are now 4-24-0-1.
Plymouth received single goals from Dario Trutmann (6th), Stefan Noesen (9th), Mitchell Heard (16th) and J.T. Miller (12th). Plymouth goaltender Scott Wedgewood - playing in his 100th game for the Whalers (the seventh goaltender in franchise history to play at least 100 games) stopped 31-of-34 to backstop the victory.
Belleville - now 19-11-0-0 and first place in the East Division of the Eastern Conference - received goals from Daniil Zharkov (12th), Luke Judson (10th) and Brendan Gaunce (17th).
The Whalers raced to a 4-1 lead in the first period, taking advantage of Belleville turnovers and cashing in with skill. Trutmann gave Plymouth a 1-0 lead at 0:38, capping off a good fundamental play when Heard won a faceoff in the Belleville zone and passed to Colin MacDonald along the right boards. MacDonald feathered a pass to the high slot to Trutmann, who wired a shot that seemed to change direction on Belleville goaltender Malcolm Subban.
Zharkov tied the game for the Bulls at 1-1 at 7:37 of the period, working the puck out from behind the Plymouth goal through traffic and scoring on a back hand.
But Plymouth scored three goals in a span of 3:07 later in the first period to take a commanding lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Whalers defenseman Austin Levi picked off a loose Belleville pass at the left point in Bulls territory and hammered a low shot that Noesen deftly re-directed from the hashmarks and popped the water bottle, top-shelf, at 14:24 to give Plymouth a 2-1 lead.
The Whalers took advantage of the power play to extend their lead to 4-1. Bathgate intercepted a Bulls clearing pass at the left point and found Beau Schmitz at the right point. Schmitz could have blasted the shot, but instead passed to Heard at the left circle and he snapped to shot, top-shelf, into the goal at 15:38 to give Plymouth a 3-1 lead. Miller capped the flurry on another power play goal at 17:31. Again, Schmitz picked off a loose pass of the right point and found Devane at the right hashmark, who backhanded a pass to Miller at the left circle, who made no mistake.
Plymouth outshot Belleville, 16-6, in the first period.
The Bulls started to pick up the pace in the second period and outshot Plymouth, 12-8, in the period. Belleville captain Judson scored the only goal of the period for at 12:56 on a shorthanded effort, picking off the puck at the mid-point of the Plymouth line and moving into the Whalers zone on a breakaway. Wedgewood stopped most of Judson’s shot from the hashmarks, but it trickled over the line.
Belleville kept coming in the third period. Stephen Silas and Gaunce both hit the goal post before Gaunce scored on a power play at 11:57 of the third period, shooting from the right point through traffic past Wedgewood.
Trailing 4-3 with a minute remaining, the Bulls pulled Subban for the extra attacker. Wedgewood stopped a wraparound at the right post by Austen Brassard with 0:36 left. As time wound down, Belleville had one last chance to score when Gaunce – at the right wing half-wall in the Plymouth zone – backhanded the puck to defenseman Silas at the hashmarks, but Silas could not get a shot as time expired.
Belleville outshot Plymouth, 34-31.
Plymouth hosts Sarnia tomorrow night at 7:05pm at Compuware Arena (6::50pm, www.plymouthwhalers.com).
WEDGEWOOD TO TEAM CANADA: Plymouth goaltender Scott Wedgewood leaves to try out for Team Canada for the 2012 World Junior Championships on Saturday. The Whalers will recall goaltender Darien Ekblad from the Leamington Flyers of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. Ekblad has a 3.28 goals against average and .902 save percentage in 13 games with the Flyers this season.
Wedgwood played in his 100th game for the Whalers tonight to become the seventh netminder in franchise history to play in at least 100 games. Wedgewood joins joining Rob Zepp (1998-01), who played in 139 games; Paul Drew (2000-04), 132; Matt Hackett (2007-10), 129; Robert Esche (1995-98), 129; Jason Saal (1992-95), 119; and Ryan Nie (2002-06), 100.