The Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting are quickly closing in on the league’s top teams, and with just over a month left in the regular season, it appears as though they will enter the postseason as the second-seed in the Western Conference.
The Midwest Division is loaded with talented teams – the Erie Otters feature Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat; the London Knights have Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak, Matt Tkachuk and Olli Juolevi; and the Kitchener Rangers have Jeremy Bracco, Ryan MacInnis and Adam Mascherin.
But the shallow West Division has some of the weakest rosters in the OHL, with only the Sting and their rival Windsor Spitfires contending for the top spot. Windsor held the top seed for a while, even making several trades to stay competitive, but the Sting made far greater moves – picking up top forwards Travis Konecny and Matt Mistele midway through the season.
And now, the Sting are not only closing the gap on the division’s top spot, but they are also making a run at the league-leading Erie Otters.
It’s hardly a surprise that the Sting have won 13 of their past 19 games, dating back to their acquisition of Konecny. In those 19 games, Konecny has gone on a tear, scoring 34 points (15G, 19A) on the top offensive line. He now has 79 points (22G, 57A) on the season (between the Ottawa 67’s and the Sting combined), good for sixth in the league in scoring. He’s quickly becoming the premier forward he was always meant to be when the 67’s took him first overall at the 2013 OHL Priority Selection Draft.
Other standouts have been power forward Pavel Zacha, Jakob Chychrun who is a top prospect for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, faceoff ace Sam Studnicka, depth scorers Jordan Kyrou and Nikita Korostelev, and the team’s top goal-scorer Matt Mistele.
Mistele – who was acquired not only for his offensive talents but also for his Memorial Cup Tournament-winning experience – has scored 17 goals in 29 games since arriving from Oshawa. And on Monday afternoon against the Saginaw Spirit, he netted five in a single game for the first time in his career.
“He’s had a ton of chances, he had the big one against London there and I think that built his confidence, got him out of his little rut he was in there and tonight everything just came together for him,” Sting head coach Derian Hatcher told the Observer.
Mistele’s offensive breakout helped lift the Sting to a commanding 11-4 victory over the Spirit, a division rival that is in a transition period. But the Sting’s win wasn’t about Saginaw being a weak team (they did score four goals, after all); rather, it was about the whole Sarnia team clicking, with contributions up and down the lineup. In fact, five other forwards scored – four of which play mostly in the bottom-six. And with their 11-4 win, the Sting clinched a berth in the 2016 OHL playoffs.
1st in West Division @StingHockey are 4th Conference team to clinch #OHLPlayoffs. STANDINGS: https://t.co/WFmpGR6KL9 pic.twitter.com/h0AuEmZiFz
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) February 16, 2016
Just two days before, the Sting snapped a three-year-long losing streak against the London Knights thanks to goals by Konecny and Mistele and exceptional defense and goaltending to hold the opponents to just one goal. It says something about the current incarnation of the team that they finally erased a painful past memory against one of their foes, and it provides hope and confidence for the whole team as they approach the postseason.
“To get the win and end that streak and be able to stop talking about that streak is nice,” Sting assistant coach Chris Lazary said. “I know myself I was sick of it, the players were sick of it, so we can kind of move on. It’s refreshing that way and to beat a good team like that down the stretch the way we’ve been playing it really just confirms that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Now on a four-game win-streak, the star-studded Sting’s focus is continuing in that right direction and holding onto their West Division crown through the final 14 games of the season.