Plymouth Whalers drop Soo Greyhounds in five games

By Derek Berry
PLYMOUTH, MI-They did not want to make another bus trip to Sault Ste. Marie. The Plymouth Whalers avoided the agonizing ride by sideswiping the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, with a thrilling Game Four overtime victory on Friday night, and wrapping up the series in Game Five on Saturday night, 3-1, before a crowd of nearly 3,000 at Compuware Sports Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. The Whalers are the Western Conference Champions of the Ontario Hockey League.

The big game Friday night in Plymouth featured a Justin Williams goal for the Whalers 13:20 into overtime, propelling Plymouth into a 3-1 series lead, setting the stage for Saturday’s showdown.

Just like Game One of the series, the Greyhounds took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Cory Pecker. Not long after, the Greyhounds would lose defenseman Derek Fox on a crushing blow along the boards in the Sault Ste. Marie zone. Fox’s season ended with a separated shoulder, according to Sault Ste. Marie head coach Paul Theriault.

“It was a good, solid hit, nothing dirty about it,” said Theriault. “He’s got a pretty sore chest too.”

That wasn’t the only pain the Whalers would inflict upon the Greyhounds.

In a sudden blast early in the second period, Plymouth scored back-to-back goals in less than a minute, by Eric Gooldy and team captain Randy Fitzgerald, to make it 2-1. It’s really all Plymouth would need. After this, they played confidently with the puck and were in control with goaltender Rob Zepp behind them.

“We just took the wind out of their sails,” said Gooldy, who scored on a breakaway to seal it at 9:04 of the third period. “We knew we could win, and we wanted to wrap this up at home.”

Goaltender Rob Zepp agreed with Gooldy.

“I’m ecstatic about the wins,” said Zepp, who held Sault Ste. Marie to one goal each time they played in Plymouth. “It’s a relief because this was a tough series.”

Head coach and general manager Peter DeBoer said it has been a truly amazing season, considering where Plymouth was picked to finish-in the bottom half of the standings.

“It all started with Zepp and the older players and trickled down to the younger guys,” said DeBoer. “The two goals in the second really swung the momentum of the game,” said DeBoer. “We started off sluggishly, but we picked it up.”

Theriault even had major words of praise for the Whalers.

“They are truly a team of destiny this year,” said Theriault. “Their players found a way to win, got the lucky bounces…those are the things that win championships.”

The Whalers sure hope so. Next up are the Barrie Colts in the OHL Championship Series, beginning Thursday night at the Barrie Molson Centre.

“Barrie is great, they were picked to win it all and they have five or six all stars on their team,” said DeBoer. “But, I think we match up pretty well with them and who knows what can happen in a best of seven series.”

For the Whalers, they hope an OHL title and an ensuing trip to the Memorial Cup.