Back in December this is what I wrote about the upcoming second half.
With Hartman and Rakell off in Russia for World Juniors, and Noesen rejoins the team after his 10 game suspension after January 11th, the Whalers are going to need to pull together for the next few games. Mahalak had a good showing last game stopping nearly 50 shots, however Mike Vellucci should not be afraid of benching him and putting in rookie Nedeljkovic if Mahalak gets to be as shaky as he was earlier in the season.
Also fans, I would not be surprised to see some Vellucci magic as the trade deadline nears. I doubt that Vellucci will be quiet at the deadline like we was last year. This team is not bad. It is far from it, but when you watch this team you know that there is something missing from this team and this is a team that needs a spark. Maybe that will come in with a trade. Time will only tell. This is a team that can have a strong second half, but the players need to make this happen. They control their destiny for the rest of the season. It could be great or they could be a very low seed.
So where are the Whalers after a 15-11-5-3 first half? How does a 27-6-0-1 sound? To me it sounds great seeing as the Whalers finished there season with a second straight West Division title and a second seed in the upcoming OHL playoffs. There were some changes that caused the amazing second half.
Just a few days after the half-way point of the season, OA Mitchell Heard was returned from the AHL Lake Erie Monsters to finish out the season. This left Plymouth with one two many OA players and a guarantee that Vellucci had to make a move at the deadline. The Whalers said goodbye to Alex Aleardi, Zach Bratina, and Simon Karlsson and hello to Zach Lorentz, Saginaw Spirit Captain Vincent Trocheck, and Sebastian Uriva. Trocheck added 59 points while with the Whalers and grabbed the OHL scoring title on the final day of the season.
Nedeljkovic started a lot more games in the second half. He finished with a 19-2-1-1 record on the season, a 2.28 GAA and a .923 save percentage. The accolades don’t stop there as the Whalers rookie goaltender picked up aVaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week nod, the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Month for March, Rookie of the Month in the OHL and the F.W. “Dinty” Moore award for Best Rookie GAA. Mahalak has been good as of late posting two straight shutouts to end the season, earning him Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week this week. He finished the season with a 2.86 GAA, .906 save percentage, and a 22-11-4-3 record with two shutouts.
The team as a whole has been running on all cylinders coming into the playoffs, and that’s with resting Colin MacDonald, Ryan Hartman, Tom Wilson and Rickard Rakell in the final week of the season. The Whalers scored a league-leading 292 goals throughout the season (granted 10-2, 8-2, and 9-2 wins help pad that stat) and went 9-1 in their final 10 games.
The Whalers got a spark (more like a few sparks) at the right time and showed everybody the depth of this squad. The prediction is that London and Plymouth are going to meet in the conference finals, but let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. The Whalers have to take on the Sarnia Sting in the first round of the OHL Playoffs. Granted anything can happen (such as the second round upset last year) but I for one am ready for a long playoff run this year.