Sarnia Sting head coach Alan Letang likes to say the Ontario Hockey League season is a marathon, not a sprint.
The Sting could be making a mad dash to the finish line this year.
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COVID-related postponements have played havoc with the OHL schedule. Seven Sting games have been postponed, five of which still have to be rescheduled.
That means the second half of the season promises to be much busier than the first.
“It’s pretty condensed right now,” Letang said.
The Sting are now slated to reach the midpoint of their 68-game regular season on Jan. 29. They’ll have played their first 34 games in 115 days.
They’ll play their final 34 games in only 64 days, if the remaining makeup dates come after Jan. 29 and if the regular season doesn’t get extended.
On Friday, the Sting scored three straight goals in the third period for a 6-5 comeback win over the Windsor Spitfires at Progressive Auto Sales Arena.
Ryan Mast’s slapshot from the right circle snapped a 5-5 tie with less than three minutes left in regulation.
Mast and Nolan Burke each scored two goals. Ty Voit had five assists.
The win lifted the Sting (12-13-3-0) into a tie with the Saginaw Spirit for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“The second half in this league is tough,” Letang said. “Teams have loaded up. Teams are going to try and separate themselves from the pack now.
“The teams that are fighting for those fifth to eighth spots are going to be all fairly equal. The difference is the little things.”
Some of those little things happen off the ice. Letang preaches the importance of getting enough sleep and eating well and staying hydrated.
Players, especially rookies, need to learn how to care for their bodies, he said. If they don’t, they’ll be more susceptible to illnesses and injuries as they wear down.
“The guys are starting to understand the amount of commitment, the amount of work day in and day out, that goes to being successful,” he said.
He praised associate head coach Brad Staubitz, who’s busy in the gym with the players, and head athletic therapist Jennifer Love for keeping them healthy.
With their schedule about to get very busy, Letang would like to see the Sting build momentum from wins like Friday’s.
“It’s nice if you get on a little bit of a roll,” he said. “You play all those games, you can kind of keep rolling. It’ll be a matter of just managing our workload.”
Maybe that means more rest on off-days for the high-minute players, he said, or not allowing players to skate for an extra half-hour after practice.
The Sting didn’t lack energy Friday, rallying from a 5-3 deficit after the Spitfires had scored four goals in a row.
All five Spitfires goals came on power plays.
Theo Hill began the comeback at 10:58 – 34 seconds after the Spitfires took their two-goal lead – with his 10th of the season.
Nolan DeGurse followed with the tying goal and Mast completed his first career two-goal game.
Ben Gaudreau made 29 saves for the win, while Xavier Medina stopped 17 shots.
Pasquale Zito scored two for the Spitfires. Will Cuylle, Daniel D’Amico and Andrew Perrott had singles.
The game was played in an empty arena because of the province’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Letang looks forward to the day when those are lifted.
“I hope it’s coming soon for everybody – the league and everyone,” he said. “We can get some fans back and enjoy a normal life.
“You understand now the importance of safety and making sure these kids are safe, but, at the same point, it’s nice seeing them every day on the ice. They have that outlet, a sport that they play for their whole lives.”
It’s important they stay on the ice to keep preparing for the next step in their careers, he said.
“You’ve got guys that are looking for NHL contracts, you have guys that are signed that are looking to continue to develop, you’ve got young guys that are looking to get drafted,” Letang said. “I’m glad that we didn’t end up shutting down because it’s important that they don’t miss another year.
“We’re already dealing with the repercussions of that missed season in development being a little bit behind. It’s important that we can continue to push forward in a safe manner.”
NOTES: DeGurse, an overage forward, is now wearing an ‘A’ as an alternate captain. Defencemen Mast and Nolan Dillingham are the other alternates. The ‘C’ hasn’t been given to anyone since captain Brayden Guy and alternate captain Ashton Reesor were traded to the Guelph Storm last week. … Another alternate captain, Cameron Supryka, was traded in November to the Storm. … The CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game scheduled for Feb. 2 in Kitchener was postponed Friday. No makeup date was announced. … Two names familiar to Sting fans appeared this week on the NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings for the 2022 NHL draft. Erie Otters defenceman Christian Kyrou, the brother of former Sting captain Jordan Kyrou, is ranked 179th among North American skaters. London Knights right-winger Landon Sim, the son of Sting alum Jon Sim, is ranked 213rd.