One of the most intriguing storylines of the 2009 OHL season has been the unexpected emergence of the Sarnia Sting. After a fifth place finish in the Western Conference a season ago, the Sting were quickly bounced from the 2009 OHL Playoffs, falling victim to the Plymouth Whalers in a decisive five game series. Following the loss of several key players, including Justin DiBenedetto, Matt Martin and Mark Katic, the consensus around the league was that 2009/2010 would be a long year of painful rebuilding for the Sting.
Initially this seemed plausible, as the Sting only managed one victory of in their first six games of the new season, but then things began to suddenly turn around. To the surprise of almost everyone, the Sting managed to rattle off a very impressive six game winning streak, which even included wins over OHL powerhouses such as the Windsor Spitfires and Kitchener Rangers. Despite a quick 4-0 setback against the Sudbury Wolves last Friday night, the Sting rebounded on Sunday against the Oshawa Generals with a 6-2 win, putting their season record at 8-5-1-0 through 14 games. Checking up on the standings and you might be surprised to see that the projected cellar dwellers are now right in the thick of the Western Conference. Glancing over the roster of the Sarnia Sting will likely leave one unimpressed, but the team does have a couple of players that will be on the NHL radar.
20 year old Goaltender Adam Courchaine has been one of the main catalysts towards the team’s success thus far. After going undrafted in 2007, Courchaine was signed by the Boston Bruins during the summer free agent window, and has seen some game action over the past two seasons with the team’s AHL affiliate in Providence. Returning to the OHL for an overage season this year, Courchaine has been stellar in the Sarnia goal, posting a 4-2 record along with a 2.21GAA and .937SV%. While the 6’3” 185lb Kanata native takes up a lot of space in his butterfly, his lateral movement causes him problems, and his lack of recovery speed really hurts his positioning on second chances.
The Sting do have a trio of 2009 eligible’s that should hear their name’s called in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft. Third year defenseman Joe Rogalski, a late 1991 birthdate, has really exploded offensively with a goal and twelve assists through fourteen games this season. This coming after the Lancaster, New York native only managed two goals and eighteen points in his first two seasons in the league. While the numbers are impressive thus far, Rogalski does have a lot to work on this year if he wants to move into the top two rounds of the draft. He does have some size (6’2”, 185lbs) but he doesn’t use it very effectively. While he will compete for pucks in the corner, he isn’t nearly as physical as he should be with his body type. His stride is long and awkward, and his first few steps need a lot of work. He also tends to stand still a lot, which results in him losing body positioning. On the plus, he does see the ice well and is a good puck distributor. Sarnia does play a fairly simple system, which could be working for or against him, but his offensive instincts are starting to develop nicely. On the powerplay, he needs to do a better job of generating more shot power and getting his shots through, but he is fairly effective in Sarnia’s overload. Right now, he’s probably a mid round pick at this point, but he does have a lot of raw potential which should play in his favour come draft day.
Another defenseman, Nathan Chiarlitti also could be on the NHL radar as a later pick next summer. A 1992 birthdate, Chiarlitti is a very methodical defenseman who plays a simple, but effective game. Most of the time, he’s a player you don’t really notice much on the ice due to the type of game he plays. He doesn’t take very many chances, but he isn’t caught out of position very often, either. He could stand to be a bit more physical, as he tends to be a bit passive in clearing out the slot, but he has an active stick which he utilizes pretty well. Lacking some overall polish, Chiarlitti could be a late round pick next summer, but he could be a guy that realizes some offensive potential in the next couple of seasons in the league.
On forward, 1992 DOB Brendan Alderson is a player that is starting to spawn some interest around the OHL, after scoring 6 goals in his first 13 OHL games. Standing in at 6’4”, 195lbs, Alderson’s size is obviously something that will intrigue NHL scouts. He’s a strong skater for his size and should be able to use it to his advantage as he becomes more accustomed to the league. He’s a north-south type player with a nose for the net, but the lack of overall skill leaves something to be desired. It’s tough to project where he could end up, but if he keeps up this pace, you would have to imagine that an NHL team will be spending a draft pick on him.
The Sting are very excited about their 1993 crop, as they managed to bring in a couple of players that they feel can really help speed up their rebuilding process. Leading the way for the 16 year old rookies is right winger Brett Ritchie, who spent last season with the Toronto Marlboros. Ritchie (6’3”, 190lbs) has great size for a 16 year old, and was the club’s first round pick in the 2009 Priority Selection, 12th overall. He’s been seeing a lot of quality ice time with the team, including a lot of top six minutes and powerplay time, and he’s been able to notch 3 goals and 5 points thus far. He has a lot of untapped potential, and there is no question that he has some good talent, but Ritchie’s problem is that he doesn’t bring it all the time. He was plagued with consistency issues in AAA last season, and he still takes shifts off this season as well. He can be a dangerous player in the offensive zone, but his skating will need some work as well to be an impact player at this level.
Third round selection Brandon Francisco slipped in the draft over NCAA scares, as the Bradford native had originally committed to the University of Maine. However, after the Sting were able to lure him away from a scholarship, the 5’10” 155lb left winger was able to crack the team’s roster this season. While the stats are less than impressive right now (1G 1A through 9 games), it’s clear to see that he’s a player with a tremendous amount of talent. He’s extremely skilled when he has the puck and has a real elite set of hands. Right now, Francisco is evidently struggling to adapt to the league physically, which was anticipated, as he’s far too slight to take a regular shift at this time. As he continues to grow stronger, he should become more comfortable and there is no doubt that he has the ability to put up a lot of points in the OHL. While his NHL potential is probably pretty limited, he likely should be the best “OHL” player out of Sarnia’s 1993 crop.
Finally, the Sting were also able to bring in another wavering player, in Ohio native JC Campagna. The wiry winger has also seen some quality ice time with the Sting this year, and looks to be finding his comfort zone with four points in his last four games. While he still needs to fill out his frame (6’1”, 170lbs) he’s showing some good things already. He’s a naturally fluid skater and he has some good offensive instincts. He does need to learn to move the puck a bit better, and he does make some poor decisions in his own end, such as rushing a breakout and making a bad turnover, but these are things that will hopefully be rectified in over the next two seasons. At this point, he does have some promise, and he will be a player to watch more in order to get a good gauge on him.
All in all, Sarnia looks to be a team that should overachieve this season, based on initial expectations, especially given that they are playing in the Western Conference, which is no doubt the more competitive of the two conferences in the league. While the team doesn’t quite have any players that will get you real excited, there are no shortages of guys that do have some interesting potential, which will make this team an interesting one to follow throughout the season.
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