Whalers’ 1998-99 Outlook – Steady As She Goes

By pbadmin

The Plymouth Whalers’ opening preseason game September 6th in Windsor
prompted a couple of related questions:

Are the Plymouth Whalers really that good? Are the Windsor Spitfires
really that bad?

The Whalers dominated from start to finish in hammering Windsor, 8-4.
Plymouth – playing without regulars Harold Druken, Dave Legwand, Scott
Holsinger, Eric Gooldy, Paul Mara and Adam Colagiacomo – led 3-0 after twenty
minutes, 6-1 after two periods. Plymouth received two goals apiece from
Randy Fitzgerald and Rick Smith, singles from Shaun Fisher, Kris Purdy and
rookies Justin Williams and Damian Surma.

Windsor – playing with most of their regulars in the lineup – looked
dazed and confused much of the steamy afternoon.

Yes, the Spits are that bad. So much so that rumors are already flying
that Windsor general manager/head coach Tony Curtale is in trouble.

And – despite the reality that Plymouth could skate this season without
Legwand and Mara – the Whalers scouting staff has come up with some rookies
who look like they can step in and contribute right away. This means the
Whalers will battle Sarnia and London in the top of the OHL West Division.

Plymouth general manager/head coach Pete DeBoer was asked if he
instructed his scouts to come up with players that met specific needs:

“Our scouts have done a fantastic job with this year’s draft class,”
DeBoer said. “It looks like we’re going to add seven or eight kids who can
play out of a draft that was supposed to be a weak year.”

“We want kids that obviously have good character,” DeBoer explained.
“Plymouth’s a place where we can’t afford to bring in kids who don’t
appreciate the school (Plymouth Community Christian) and the surrounding
community. As far as hockey goes, we want kids to compete. I think every kid
(we selected) from top to bottom is a kid that comes in night in and night
out and competes.”

With Colagiacomo (San Jose), Mara (Tampa Bay), Gooldy (Toronto),
Druken (Vancouver), Legwand and Jamie Lalonde (Nashville), Tomek Valtonen
(Detroit), Maxim Linnick (St. Louis) and Fitzgerald, Holsinger, Kevin
Holdridge and Troy Smith (Carolina) all away at their respective National
Hockey League training camps, Whalers rookies will carry the load for much of
the preseason.

Relax. These kids will be all right.

A closer look at the Whalers, by position:

GOALTENDING: Scott Holsinger is the lone holdover from last season. He
has worked hard all summer – so much so he earned an invitation to Carolina’s
training camp. 4th round pick Dwayne Bateman is a big goaltender who covers
a lot of net. 5th round pick Rob Zepp is a smaller, reflex-type goaltender
who impressed the coaching staff.

COACHES’ COMMENTS: DeBoer: “I think we’ve got some depth there. We
used two pretty high draft picks on two goaltenders in Bateman and Zepp and
you add Holsinger to the mix and we’ve got some depth at the position.
Bateman, Zepp and Scott Holsinger have been fantastic in our training camp.
I haven’t had a training camp with this much skill where the scores are 5-4
and 4-3 – primarily due to the goaltending. So we’re pretty ecstatic.”

Assistant GM/Associate coach Steve Spott: “Holsy came in great shape and
we look to him to be our starter out of the gate. We had a chance to watch
Rob Zepp in a preseason game with our (North American Hockey League Compuware
Ambassadors) Tier II team and he stopped 29 shots and was the game’s second
star. Dwayne Bateman was great last year in Trenton (Ont.) in leading them
to a division final. It’s a battle – a healthy competition between the three
of them. I think we’re in pretty good shape this year.”

GOALTENDING OUTLOOK: With so many teams in the OHL (Kitchener, Windsor,
Peterborough, Oshawa, Belleville and Sudbury) having major questions in goal,
the Whalers have three netminders who can play. Plymouth’s goaltending
situation could be far worse. Like last year, expect the Whalers to play
good team defense to help out. Holsinger in pencilled in as the starter.
DeBoer may well use the first 20 games of the regular season to sort this
situation out.

DEFENSE: Holdridge, Fisher, Troy Smith and Nik Tselios are the
holdovers. The rookies include 3rd round pick Jared Newman (Lincoln Park),
9th round pick Andre Robichaud and free agent Max Linnick. Whaler fans who
miss Luc Rioux will like Robichaud, who plays a similar style of game as a
stay-at-home, steady defenseman that makes good decisions. Newman competes
hard and may develop eventually into a good puck carrier. Linnick is a big,
strong defenseman who skates well.

COACHES COMMENTS: Spott: “Linnick has great skills and there’s a good
framework for us to work with. It’s going to be a good experience for him to
go to St. Louis’ camp. You’re talking about a 6-foot-4 defenseman who’s got
good offensive skills and skates real well. Newman’s kind of a Troy Smith
clone. Smitty’s the type of guy who keeps things pretty safe out there and
I think Jared’s the same way. He’s a big, strong kid, but people have to
realize he’s only 15-years-old and it’s going to take time for him to get his
feet wet at this level.”

DeBoer: “(Newman’s) not flashy, but Jared’s very smart with the puck.
He’s very composed for someone so young. Robichaud makes real good
decisions. Andre’s game is to keep it simple and makes the right play all
the time.”

DEFENSIVE OUTLOOK: It would be great if Mara comes back. But again, the
Whalers’ situation is better than most around the OHL. If Mara doesn’t come
back – and the Whalers are in the thick of the OHL West Division hunt –
expect DeBoer to add at least one more veteran defenseman by the league’s
final trading deadline.

UP FRONT: The best line in training camp was Legwand skating between
Colagiacomo and Rick Smith. If Legwand comes back from Nashville, they may
one of the top offensive lines in the OHL. The Whalers should be all right
even if Legwand doesn’t come back. With Legwand, the Whalers have the best
centers in the OHL. Without Legwand, Druken, Julian Smith, Kris Vernarsky
and Rick Smith are still better than most. You can add rookie centerman
Damian Surma to the mix at center as well. The Whalers have found a real
diamond in the rough in Surma. Colagiacomo has come to camp determined to
make the San Jose Sharks sign him to a pro contract at the end of the year.
Rookies Kyle Chapman, Tomek Valtonen and Justin Williams will be at home in
the OHL West. Williams added a goal with three assists in the victory in
Windsor. Expect Randy Fitzgerald, Rick Smith, Jamie Lalonde, Kris Purdy and
Gooldy to score more this year. Rookies James Ramsey and Lee Sprague join
Lalonde as certified tough guys who will dance with the opposition anytime,

COACHES COMMENTS: DeBoer: “Colagiacomo came in with the reputation of
being out of shape, but came in and was the best-conditioned athlete in camp.
Williams has been a real pleasant surprise – a 6th round draft pick that
scored a lot in Jr.C last year. Making the big jump to our league is a bit
of an unknown. Justin’s scored in every game he’s played for us and I think
he’ll fit in nicely. For a kid that just turned 16-years-old – and one of
the youngest in the league – Kris Vernarsky’s very composed, very patient
with the puck. And he’s got a little bit of an edge to him. He’s going to
end up being 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds by the time he’s done playing. He’s
going to be a real force to be reckoned with.”

Spott: “I think Kris Vernarsky may be one of those kids who we’ll only
see here a couple of years. He has all the makings of being a great hockey
player – he’s big, he’s strong, he’s tough, he has great offensive skills,
which compliment his defensive game as well. He plays a mean game. Valtonen
has been compared to Esa Tikkanen and I can see why – three guys came out of
training camp with stitches, compliments of Tommy. He plays a gritty game
and he’s got good offensive skills – he led our camp in scoring.”

OVERALL OUTLOOK: There are many OHL teams with far more problems.
Whalers should be near the top of the OHL West, especially if Legwand
returns. Even if he doesn’t, this will be a very competitive team.

TRAINING CAMP CUTS: Free agents Don Evon, Rob Globke, Todd Myers and Rob
Brown; draft choices Ashton Spencer (13th round), Jonathan Hutchinson (14),
Mark Anderson (17), Steve Jackson (18) and James Crank (19). Goaltender
Brandon Sacco was not invited to camp and Mike Smith (12) decided not to