OHL: Plymouth Whalers season preview

By Rich Krisciunas

The OHL Plymouth Whalers opened their
2003 training camp with 35 players invited, looking to replace at least eight
players from last year’s team. 

In 2002-03, Plymouth finished first in
the West Division of the Western Conference for the fifth straight year with 97
points, good for the third best record in the OHL, behind Kitchener (100) and
Ottawa (98). The OHL Western Conference runner-up battled the 2003 Memorial Cup
champion, Kitchener Rangers, to a seventh game before being ousted in the OHL
semi-finals.  They look to improve on
that performance in 2003-04.

General manager/head coach Mike Vellucci, assisted by Alex Roberts and goalie coach Greg Steffen return for their third


Chad LaRose signed with the Carolina Hurricanes after scoring a
team record 61 goals in his overage year. 
Center Chris Thorburn, who
chipped in 30 goals last season, signed with the Buffalo Sabres and while
speedy left wing Karl Stewart, a 35
goal scorer, will begin his rookie contract with Atlanta.

In addition to losing their offensive
firepower, the Whalers will look to replace the leadership of team captain and
defenseman Nate Kiser, who signed a
minor league contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets to play in either Syracuse
(AHL) or Dayton (ECHL), and faceoff specialist Jimmy Gagnon. Both were overagers last year.

Offensive defenseman Cole Jarrett
(14 goals and 41 assists) attended
New York Islanders rookie training
camp and is not expected to return. The Whalers traded Czech defenseman Martin Cizek, a Buffalo Sabres ninth
round pick in 2002, who played in 58 games last year, to Guelph for the Storm’s
fifth round pick in the 2005 OHL Priority Draft and sent defenseman Trevor Waddell, who played in 10 games,
to the Kingston Frontenacs for the Whalers own third round draft
choice in the 2004 OHL Priority Draft. Cizek reportedly has decided to play in


The Whalers return undrafted overage
goalie Paul Drew, who led the team
with 49 games played and had a 29-12-7 record with three shutouts and a .911
save percentage. Drew will be pressed by Buffalo 2003 NHL eighth round draft
pick Jeff Weber (235th
overall), who was 13-2-2 with a .925
save percentage last year, although he played mostly against weaker teams.  Weber attended the Sabres rookie camp and is
hoping to see more playing time this year.  If one of the two are moved, Ryan
’85, who played last year for Brantford Jr. B, Matt Cleveland ’86, from Team Illinois, and Eddie Wheeler ‘86, who played for Tecumseh Jr. B and will fight for
the backup spot.  Nie gave up seven
goals in the team’s 8-2 exhibition loss to Windsor.


On defense, 2002
Chicago Blackhawk draftee, James
(156th overall) and 2003 Colorado Avalanche draftee, David Liffiton, (63rd
overall) will anchor the Whalers blueline with returning defenders Mike Letizia and Erik Lundmark.  The Whalers added experience when they obtained
three-year veteran Richard Power
(190 OHL games) from the Kingston Frontenacs for a 2004 fifth round draft pick.
Power, 6’1”, 195 lbs, was the third player chosen overall in the 2000 OHL Priority
draft.  He will always be known in Owen
Sound as the player drafted before Rick Nash, who recently graduated to the
NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Craig Cescon,
6’2”, 190 lbs, from Oakville, looked impressive in camp along with Ryan McGinnis, ’87, a 6’1”, 184-pound
defenseman from Detroit Honeybaked. Both who will vie for playing time along
with Sean Pennock, 6’1”, 188 lbs,
who played for the Sudbury Northern Wolves. 

The Whalers other second round 2003 OHL
Priority Draft pick, highly regarded Detroit Little Caesars defenseman Mark Mitera, has decided to play with
the U-17 US National team in 2003-04 in order to maintain his NCAA college


The Whalers hope overage center Ryan Ramsay, 5’11”, 186 lbs, will
return after scoring a career-high, 33 goals and 55 assists after being
obtained in a trade from Kitchener for Gregory Campbell last season. Ramsay was
invited to the Carolina Hurricanes rookie camp and scored four goals in three
games against prospects from the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.  If Ramsay doesn’t get a minor-league
contract, he’ll center the Whalers top line, joined by returning forwards RW Jonas Fiedler (7 goals) a San Jose
2002 third round draftee and LW John
(15 goals) who also attended the Hurricanes camp.

Center John Mitchell, (18 goals) drafted 158th overall by the
Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2003 NHL Draft, LW Tim Sestito (11 goals) and overage defensive specialist, RW Nick Vernelli (4 goals in 55 games) who
came to the Whalers last year from Saginaw should play on the second line.  Mitchell has looked stronger going to the
net in the team’s exhibition games and Vernelli scored three times in early

The Whalers hope they can get some
offense from five new forwards. Plymouth added some size up front by selecting
Czech import, Vaclav Meidl, a 6’4”,
195 lb left wing/center, with the ninth overall pick in the CHL Import
Draft.  Meidl had 12 goals, 23 assists
and 48 PIM in 46 games for the HC Havirov Panthers last season. He participated
in the Under-18 World Junior Championships playing up an age group and also saw
time with the Panther Extraliga team. Meidl, a good skater who plays a feisty
game, should center the team’s third line with a variety of young new faces.

Plymouth also signed their first two
picks in the 2003 OHL Priority Draft, first round pick (18th
overall) Michael Lombardi, 6’2”, 180
lbs, a left wing, and second round pick (32nd overall) right wing Dan Collins, 6’1”, 186 lbs.  Lombardi played 28 games for the Minor
Midget Vaughan Kings and had 17 goals and 32 assists and added 139 PIM.  Collins played for the Syracuse Jr. A Crunch
last year and had 14 goals and 12 assists in 35 games while adding 58 PIM.  Collins looked very strong in the team’s
pair of exhibition victories against the Saginaw Spirit scoring three goals.

The Whalers also added power forward Gino Pisellini, an Itasca, Illinois
native, who played Midget Major for Team Illinois last season. The 6’0”,
205-pound right wing, tallied 27 goals and 33 assists along with 131 PIM in 61
games played.  Pisellini is not afraid
to drop the gloves and beat Windsor’s Mitch Maunu in their exhibition
tilt.  Center Eric Sargent, 5’10”, 185 lbs,
a 1984 who played for the Pittsburgh Forge in the NAHL, last year, and
tallied 17 goals and 17 assists in 38 games will battle for time on the fourth
line with veterans center Brent Mahon
(1 goal) and right wing Mike Nelson, (1
goal) who played sparingly last year.

Looking to the
future, a trio of youngsters looked at home at the camp. Michael Guzzo, a 5’8”, 164-pound center, from Detroit Honeybaked,
scored three goals in the first two games. Right wing Tony Iaquinto, 6’2”, 235 lbs, from the Toronto Marlboros scored in
all three intra-squad scrimmages while defensemen Zack Shepley, 6’2”, 186 lbs from Oakville Midget Minor and Brett
Dickinson, 5’8”, 197 lbs, who played for the Toronto Young Nationals, were
steady on defense.

Based on Plymouth’s
success in the last five years, don’t be surprised if the Whalers add another
experienced goal scorer to aid them in their quest for a sixth consecutive
division championship. There is much speculation that additional moves will be
made before the roster is finalized in January.

Opening night for the Whalers is September 19th.

Discuss the OHL on Hockey’s
Future’s message boards