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Friday Night Buzz: Sarnia Sting Clinch Playoff Berth

The Sarnia Sting entered their final home stand of the season looking for a single point to clinch their first playoff berth in three years.  Last week, Sarnia failed to record the single point in all three of their games and with three games in two-and-a-half days this weekend, the Sting were looking to get the win early.  On Friday night, the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds rolled into town looking for wins and points of their own as they sit 9th in the Western Conference standings, one spot out of a playoff position.  The Hounds’ visit to the RBC Centre marked the eighth and final regular season game between the Sting and Greyhounds and Sarnia carried the advantage winning four of the previous seven meetings.

Metcalfe Photography

In typical Sarnia Sting fashion, the team came out flat in front of a good home crowd of 4055 spectators and while there was no scoring in the first period the Hounds outshoot the Sting 15-7 in an extremely quick first period. After an opening period with few stoppages that took just over twenty minutes to complete it appeared the Greyhounds and Sting wanted to get this game over with as quickly as possible. 
The Greyhounds came out of the first intermission with energy and at the 6:35 mark of the middle frame, Detroit Red Wings’ prospect defenseman Ryan Sproul let a howitzer go beating Sting netminder JP Anderson over the shoulder to open the scoring. Sarnia was once again behind and it became worse as the Sting spotted the visiting Greyhounds a 3-0 lead giving up the next two goals to towering Swede Michael Schumacher (Los Angeles Kings) and David Broll, a Maple Leafs’ prospect. Broll’s goal came in the opening seconds of a four minute Greyhounds powerplay, awarded after Alberga hit pesky forward Nick Cousins from behind.  Two Soo powerplay goals later and a 3-0 deficit to overcome it appeared Sarnia’s playoff hopes would be delayed for the fourth straight game after another slow start.  However, late in the second period, Ludvig Rensfeldt welcomed his parents to Canada (visiting from Sweden) and gave the Sting a bit of life when he knocked in a goal to cut the lead to 3-1.
The RBC Centre came to life as the puck dropped for the third period and the chants began echoing through the arena taunting Greyhounds’ agitating forward and leading scorer Nick Cousins after many fans felt he embellished Alberga’s hit from behind in the second period.  Dominic Alberga continued his verbal battle with Cousins (Flyers’ 2011 3rd round selection) but his best jab was when he was able to bury his 17th of the season passed netminder Jack Campbell on DeAngelo’s centering pass to pull the Sting within one goal.  At the 4:22 mark of the third, former Sting defenseman Joe Rogalski was sent to the sin bin for delay of game after clearing the puck over the glass.  Seven seconds later, Greyhounds’ defenseman Mike Schwindt fired his clearing shot into the crowd to put the visiting team on a 5-on-3 penalty kill.  Sarnia capitalized early on the man advantage as former Greyhound and Sault Ste. Marie native Brett Thompson tied the game for the Sting.  The fury of goals in the third period continued as Reid Boucher and Ludvig Rensfeldt scored 56 seconds apart to put Sarnia up 5-3 as the Sting scored five unanswered goals.
The Soo Greyhounds pushed back late in the third period as Nick Cousins fired a wrist shot into the back of Sarnia’s net with the goaltender pulled.  The Sting fended off the late attack and won the game 5-4 despite being outshot 48-25 on the shot clock.  Sting goaltender JP Anderson played strong and made several key saves to keep Sarnia in the game. 

-           Ludvig Rensfeldt (Chicago Blackhawks) scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season and continues to play his best hockey of the season.  Rensfeldt has 20 goals, 41 points in 52 games in his first year in the Ontario Hockey League.  The big Swede has 10 goals and 9 assists for 19 points in his last 21 games.

-          Connor Murphy, Sarnia’s 15th round selection in the 2009 OHL Priority Selection Draft, has been simply amazing in his first OHL season after returning from injury in December.  The lanky Murphy has shown tremendous upside at both the defensive and offensive ends of the rink.  Connor added an assist and was plus-3 in last night’s win.

-          Sixteen year old rookie defenseman, Anthony DeAngelo, continues his strong play recording another assist last night extending his point streak to four games.  DeAngelo has two goals and eight points over his last eight games and sits third in Sting defenseman scoring (20 points) trailing injured rearguards Adrian Robertson (37) and Alex Basso (34).  DeAngelo is a treat to watch and is going to be a fun player to watch develop as he earns more ice time in the OHL.

-          Sarnia has five players in the 20-goal club including Nail Yakupov (31), Ryan Spooner (28), Brett Thompson (28), Reid Boucher (26) and Ludvig Rensfeldt (20).  Tyler J. Brown (19) is still searching for his first goal as a member of the Sarnia Sting.  Charlie Sarault (18), Craig Hottot (18) and Dominic Alberga (17) are within grasps of reaching the 20-goal milestone as well.

-          Sarnia continues to play with a shortened roster as Coach Jacque Beaulieu is forced to dress only ten forwards and six defensemen last night and does not expect any of the injured players to return this weekend.   Alex Galchenyuk, Craig Hottot, Alex Basso and Adrian Robertson are all still on the mend.

-          Sarnia’s win Friday night over the Greyhounds gives the team 71 points tying Owen Sound.  The Sting currently have one game in hand over the Attack to seed them in the 4th spot in the Western Conference.  Sarnia welcomes Owen Sound to the RBC Centre tonight (Saturday, March 10th) in a huge game that will likely determine who finishes 4th and receives home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
Sarnia/Sault Ste Marie Season Series Recap (5-3-0)
October 20th – SSM 5, SAR 2
October 26th – SAR 5, SSM 1
December 4th – SSM 2, SAR 5
December 28th – SAR 3, SSM 6
January 19th – SSM 4, SAR 6
February 12th – SAR 7, SSM 6
February 29th- SAR 2, SSM 8
March 7th- SSM 4, SAR 5

Game Day Preview:  Owen Sound @ Sarnia, 7 pm
-          The Western Conference 4th seed and home ice advantage is up for grabs tonight.
-       It's expected that there will be a strong presence of NHL scouts to take in the 2012 NHL draft-eligible players specifically Nail Yakupov (Sarnia), Gemel Smith (OS) and Artur Gavrus (OS).
-          Tonight’s game is the fourth and final meeting between the Sting and Attack.
-          Previous Games:
o   Sarnia 3 @ Owen Sound 4 (OT)
o   Owen Sound 3 @ Sarnia 5
o   Sarnia 2 @ Owen Sound 5
-          The home team has won all three games to date.
-          Sting Scorers vs. Owen Sound Attack:
o   Charlie Sarault (1G, 4A)
o   Brett Thompson (2G, 2A)
o   Reid Boucher (2G, 1A)
o   Nail Yakupov (2G, 1A)
o   Ludvig Rensfeldt (1G)
o   Ryan Spooner (1G)
o   Jack Kuzmyk (1A)
o   Anthony DeAngelo (1A)
o   Dominic Alberga (1A)
o   Alex Basso (1A)
o   Craig Hottot (1A)

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