Youthful Sting squad ready to start season

The Sting celebrate Jacob Perreault's (44) shootout winner vs Saginaw Feb. 18, 2019 (photo courtesy of Metcalfe Photography)

The Sarnia Sting kick off their 2019-20 OHL schedule Friday night when they host the Hamilton Bulldogs at Progressive Auto Sales Arena.

The Sting have some new additions to the club this year, including 2019 draft picks goalie Ben Gaudreau, defenceman Ryan Mast, and forwards Justin O’Donnell, and Ty Voit.

Swedish defenceman Eric Hjorth and Marek Berka from the Czech Republic are the import players.

Hjorth was chosen by Columbus in the 2019 NHL draft, while Berka went undrafted. Hjorth took part in the Blue Jackets’ training camp but has since been returned to the club.

Goalies Ethan Langevin and Cameron Lamour are both back with the team.

Sting General Manager Nick Sinclair said although they’ll have a younger team this year, he expects them to compete hard.

“We’ve been encouraged by the steps that a number of different guys have taken,” said Sinclair. “We do have a younger nucleus this year with the overall team, but we still have some really good veteran players on this team. We think it’ll be a good mix when we get going here. We think we’ll see this team take a step up from where we were last year.”

Sinclair said they still have to figure out the overage player situation.

Teams can only dress three, but the Sting have five including Sean Josling, Kelton Hatcher, Nick Grima, Calvin Martin and Ryan McGregor.

“Obviously, we have to get down to a more manageable number so that the guys that are here can be in and playing every night,” he said. “It’s something that we’re working towards and hope to have some conclusion sooner than later. It takes time moreso in some years than others. We’re optimistic that as we continue forward here that it’ll work itself out.”

Forward Sam Bitten, who was acquired from his hometown Ottawa 67’s for a third round and fifth round pick, said he’s looking forward to getting started.

“Just having three or four exhibition games under my belt with Sarnia and wearing that jersey, it’s pretty exciting,” said Bitten. “I just can’t wait for Friday night to roll around. It should be really fun during the home opener to see all of the fans that make it out.”

The 19-year-old recently took part in the Minnesota Wild’s development camp with his older brother Will.

“Being with him was fantastic. It was really a dream come true for myself and my family. We did play a couple of shifts together and on the penalty kill. I can’t really believe that happened, I have to pinch myself when I think about it.”

Bitten had 13 goals and 22 assists in 68 games last season. Overall, he has 22 goals and 59 points in 150 career OHL games.

The Sting are dealing with a few injuries to start the year, including Gaudreau who will be out for a few more weeks with a knee injury.

Captain Ryan McGregor and defenceman Ashton Reesor are also expected to miss some games with lingering injuries.

It was recently announced that Kelton Hatcher and Jamieson Rees will serve as alternate captains.

Last season, the Sting finished seventh place in the Western Conference with 63 points and lost to Saginaw in the opening playoff round.

Franco Sproviero, Mitch Eliot, Curtis Egert, Alex Hogue, and Hugo Leufvenius won’t be returning this season.

Sproviero and Eliot are too old to return. Egert went to the GOJHL’s St. Catharines Falcons, and Hogue was dealt to the Guelph Storm for a conditional 15th round pick.

Leufvenius, who led last year’s squad with 37 goals and 81 points, is playing for Karlskrona in his native Sweden.

As always, we’ll have every game for you on 103.9 FM, 1070 AM CHOK with Leigh Cunningham and Patrick Desrochers.