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Sting Makes the Early Moves

SPECIAL THANKS TO: BRYAN THIEL
Take a second to think about something. Throughout the hockey season, whether it's at the NHL level or the CHL level, what is the most-anticipated event on the regular season schedule.

While some fans may point to a theme night with their favourite club, or those games where their team matches up with the most-hated rival you can imagine, or even the month of Movember, most will answer with the Trade Deadline.

The Trade Deadline is the last hurdle to clear before the playoffs. It separates the teams with a chance at true glory from the teams that will merely look on, and it infuses fans with excitement. If you listen to the people, it's typically the good things you hear: The rumours are tantalizing, the pressures to make trades are exciting, and the action can reinvigorate fans drained by even the most topsy-turvy seasons.

But there is one major complaint that's shared across the board, and that's the timing of the deadline. Come playoff time, the team that stands alone at the end of the season as the champions isn't necessarily the most-skilled team, it's the team that's the closest. It's the team that would run through a wall for one another or jump on the proverbial grenade; not the team comprised of those whose eyes stop at the points column beside their name and not the one beside their team in the standings, or the players that would rather try to carry things on their own than move in sequence with their teammates.

This moment in the season is placed precariously, because one wrong move at the Trade Dedaline can turn a championship-caliber team into a first-round upset.

That's why, when the Sarnia Sting started things off this week by making a pair of acquisitions (a trend that a handful of teams would wisely follow suit with), it was ingenious.

It was over the summer when Sarnia placed the finishing touches on their club. Happy with the one-two punch of 2012 Top-Tens Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, they went out and acquired Taylor Carnevale to augment their secondary scoring, and (based entirely on the season he's having) Charles Sarault. They tweaked the blueline with Julian Luciani, anchored it by signing Connor Murphy, and they wrapped it up by nabbing veteran goalie Brandon Maxwell to pair with Brandon Hope.

While Maxwell has been a revelation for Sarnia between the pipes and Yakupov has done little to discern those who pegged him as a 120+ point threat in the 'O' this season, the Sting ran into injury problems and needed to find solutions. Murphy has yet to play for Sarnia after suffering a torn meniscus over the summer, while Carnevale made it through just 10 games (12 points) before suffering nerve damage in his foot blocking a shot (He just returned to the lineup on Friday). Those weren't even Sarnia's biggest problems, as Galchenyuk was lost to the team before the season started after suffering a knee injury in the pre-season, and the team recently announcing he'd need a six-month recovery after undergoing surgery.
 
So while the hand of the Sting was forced a bit to fill their holes, the two acquisitions this week round out the roster for a club that should contend for a Western Conference Title three months before rosters are finalized.
 
While it's nice that the Sting simply have to concern themselves with tweaking the roster come January, they've avoided a big pit fall of the Deadline, and that's throwing the locker room out of whack.
 
With the acquisitions of Brett Thompson from Erie and Craig Duinnick from Windsor at this point in the season, Sarnia has given the two a chance to get acclimated to the dressing room, the team, and the systems before the games truly start to count. Instead of recklessly adding pieces at the deadline and hoping that they fit, the Sting have been fair to themselves and the players: If they fit in seamlessly, Sarnia becomes a Western Superpower and will be at full strength come playoff time. If there are issues, then it's a whole lot easier to bench or cut a player now, than it is in the first round when you're down 2-0.
 
For Sarnia, all eyes are on them this year, and they've given people more reasons to watch than just Nail Yakupov and (formerly) Alex Galchenyuk. With the moves they've made, even those who doubted their ability to come away with a Conference Championship or more are now paying attention to them, and it's hard to imagine the spotlight shining as brightly on any other team in the West besides Sarnia or maybe London.

But instead of just dealing with that attention from the Trade Deadline and beyond, the Sting will hear about it in November and by playoff time these moves will be old news. The players will be fitting in, and the Sting will hopefully be ready for the challenge that is the playoffs, not answering questions about whether they're ready or things are the same after a shakeup.

They say the early bird catches the worm. Well the Sting not only caught the worm but they've avoided, for now, the pitfalls that can swallow a promising team whole when moves are made too hastily.

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