By DAVE BORODY
“It wasn’t pretty.”
Those were the words of Sarnia Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu after watching his team fall 7-1 to the Saginaw Spirit, Wednesday night in front of 3,665 fans at the RBC Centre.
Sarnia has now lost two in a row to see their overall record dip to 33-26-2-5 in the Ontario Hockey League.
With two games remaining in the regular schedule, Sarnia sits in fourth place, two points up on Owen Sound and now just three ahead of Saginaw in the Western Conference.
Sarnia’s final two games are both on the road, Friday at London and Saturday in Plymouth. Owen Sound has a home and home affair with Guelph while Saginaw has two home games against Windsor and Kitchener.
Fourth, fifth and six positions are still up for grabs. Depending where they finish, Sarnia could play Owen Sound, Saginaw or Kitchener in round one of the playoffs.
The Sting just seemed to be a step behind the Spirit the entire game. Saginaw enjoyed a 1-0 lead after one period and a commanding 4-0 advantage after 40 minutes.
“We didn’t work and there was no effort,” said Beaulieu. “We didn’t pay attention to detail and it was like we were out for a free skate. We played like we had already clinched first place and we haven’t even clinched home ice yet. It was the kind of game you couldn’t wait to see get over.”
For the first time in over a month the Sting dressed the full compliment of 20 players, including forward Alex Galchenyuk, who played his first game after missing the entire season with a knee injury.
“Alex played about 10 minutes tonight,” said Beaulieu. “We knew it was going to be tough on him. The game is going 100 miles an hour and he’s going about 50 miles per hour. He’s got to get used to the pace of the game and the systems. But we know he’s a good player and he will adjust.”
Galchenyuk said he felt no pain in his surgically repaired knee. He admitted the return was a little overwhelming.
“After being away for five months, I wasn’t used to it. It was tough, but everything was different, the big things and the little things. Little things, like being with the guys in the locker room, taping my stick and getting used to the crowd. There were big things like getting my timing back.”
He added, “It was hard sitting out all year. I kind of got used to being out, but I always wanted to get back. Now I’m back and I have to get back into game shape. I need to work hard every day to get back to the player I was last year.”
Defenceman Alex Basso returned after missing 10 games with a separated shoulder while forward Craig Hottot played for the first time in nine games.
Only Nail Yakupov and Adrian Robertson were missing from the Sting lineup.
Josh Shalla led the Spirit with a natural hat trick with all three goals coming in the second period. Vadim Khlopotov, Terry Trafford, Brandon Saad and Vincent Trocheck added single goals.
Brett Thompson scored the lone Sting goal on a power play early in the third period to trim the lead to 4-1 at the time. Ryan Spooner and Basso assisted on Thompson’s 31st goal of the season.
Jake Paterson was the winning goalie making 25 saves, but had few tough saves to make. J.P. Anderson stopped 27 for the Sting. Anderson was lifted after the fourth Saginaw goal in the second period in favour of Brandon Hope, but Anderson returned a minute later.
Sarnia was one-for-seven on the power play and Saginaw one-for-three. The Spirit also had a shorthanded goal.
“They turned us pretty good tonight,” said Beaulieu. “We need to get back to the way we had been playing and playing the right way.”
– Shalla was first star with Saad second star and Trafford third star. Spooner was the Dickies hardest working player of the game for the Sting.
– Sarnia took four of six games from Saginaw on the season, but Saginaw won the final two, outscoring the Sting 13-3 in those two games.
– The game was the final regular season home game for Sarnia. They finished with a 20-10-1-3 record.
– Sarnia’s three overage players were honoured before the game. They include Thompson, Robertson and Tyler Brown. The three received plaques and their sweaters under glass.
– Sarnia has won 24 of 42 games with Yakupov in the lineup and just nine of 23 when he doesn’t play.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games both home and away and also does features for the Sting Website.