By Nick Misiak
A week after trading away leading scorer Matt Mistele to Oshawa and owner Peter Karmanos Jr. announcing the relocation and sale of the Whalers franchise, the Plymouth Whalers rebounded with two huge victories that pushed them back into the OHL playoff picture with two months remaining in the season. A 7-1 blowout of the Sudbury Wolves on Saturday Dec. 17 and a come from behind 3-2 win over rival Saginaw Spirit on Monday Dec. 19 added four much needed points to Plymouth’s total.
The Whalers (15-24-2-1) still remain at the bottom of the Western Conference, but are now only seven points back from the eighth and final playoff seed.
Whalers 3, Saginaw 2
Victor Crus Rydberg scored twice and Mathew Campagna scored as well in just over three minutes in the middle of the third period to give the Whalers their second straight win.
Crus Rydberg began the comeback with a wrist shot from the right circle that deflected off of a Saginaw stick and into the upper right meshing of the net. Campagna tied the game just 1:20 later with a wicked writer that Spirit goaltender David Ovsjannikov was unable to get a blocker on.
Crus Rydberg was then able to give the whalers their first lead of the game when he slapped a pass from Connor Chatham between the legs of Ovsjannikov to give the Whalers a 3-2 advantage.
Saginaw opened the scoring at 13:39 in the first when Vladislav Kodola split two Whaler defensemen and lifted a backhander over the glove of Alex Nedeljkovic.
Nedeljkovic remained composed despite the goal and stopped all of the shots he faced in the rest of the first and all of the second. He had a tremendous toe save with his right pad in the second period, stoning Devon Paliani who had a wide open net until Nedeljkovic spread his legs and stretched to the right post.
Whalers 7, Sudbury 1
Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Sonny Milano had two goals late in the second period and former Sudbury Wolves captain Mathew Campagna added a goal and an assist in a 7-1 landslide win against Sudbury.
Connor Sills opened the scoring 15 seconds into the game with his fifth goal of the season, giving the Whalers an early advantage they would not let go of. Campagna scored his thirteenth of the year at 16:21 off of a laser shot from the right circle to make it 2-0.
Sudbury scored its lone goal about half way into the second period when Michael Pezzetta snuck the puck past Plymouth goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, pulling the Wolves to within one.
Milano then showed why he is a top NHL prospect, scoring two goals in a single shift at 17:51 and 18:34 to expand the Plymouth lead to 4-1. Milano’s first goal came unassisted off of a Sudbury turnover when he picked up a loose puck on the right end-wall and rifled it past Wolves goalie Samuel Tanguay. His second came after a superb passing show between him and his line mates Victor Crus Rydberg and Connor Chatham.
Crus Rydberg, Cullen Mercer and Will Bitten all scored insurance goals in the third to secure the victory for the Whalers.
Plymouth plays on the road Friday Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. in St. Catherines against the Niagra Ice Dogs before returning home to face the Guelph Storm at Compuware Arena at 7:05 p.m.