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Minor League Hockey

OHL Roundup: Franchise whispers out of Waterloo

By Mackenzie Liddell, Contributing Editor

Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - It was announced Friday that former Guelph Storm president Jim Rooney and a group of investors are spearheading an effort to purchase and relocate an unnamed Ontario Hockey League franchise to Waterloo, Ontario.

The proposed move would see the team play in the 3,500-seat Rec Complex, which would be upgraded to 4,000 at no cost to the taxpayers, but the biggest stumbling block is convincing regional rivals Kitchener and Guelph to approve such a move.

Kitchener and Guelph own territorial rights in the area and could thwart any relocation efforts, although Rooney remains confident something could be worked out as it did 20 years ago when the Storm began operations.

While Guelph is approximately 30 kilometers removed from Kitchener, Waterloo's Rec Complex is only seven kilometers from the 6,200-seat Kitchener Auditorium.

Although Rooney is devout in his belief the junior hockey hotbed could easily accommodate another franchise without taking fans away from the wildly popular Rangers, Kitchener chief operating officer Steve Bienkowski is skeptical of the plan and admitted it doesn't make sense for his franchise.

This issue will certainly gain steam in the following weeks, but expectations should be tempered as it doesn't appear likely the Rangers would approve the plan, although open dialogue with Rooney's group and the OHL's 20-member board of governors could change that.

STING GET STUNG

On some nights the youthful Sarnia Sting look like energized playoff contenders; on other nights their inexperience shines through and the results aren't pretty.

Case in point, their 0-3-0 week punctuated by a 7-1 dismantling at the hands of the OHL-best Mississauga Majors, who outshot Sarnia 59-29 and blasted 36 pucks on net in the opening frame alone.

Yes, Mississauga is a deadly opponent, but allowing 36 shots in 20 minutes is mind bending.

You have to feel sorry for Sting netminder Troy Passingham, who was pulled after 20 minutes against the Majors, after getting bombarded by 83 combined shots in his two previous starts.

The Sting, who were once within a couple points of a playoff berth, are now nine points back of the Guelph Storm and appear destined for another early summer.

Giving up 40-plus shots in five of their past six games isn't helping them get back in the hunt either.

WHALERS ON A ROLE

Expectations were low for the Whalers coming into the season, having lost OHL- MVP Tyler Seguin to the NHL but, with 19 games remaining in their season, they could be riding into the playoffs as a serious threat in the West.

After a near-flawless week - the lone blemish a 6-5 shootout loss to Niagara - the Whalers have now gone eight games without a regulation loss and are tied with Windsor at 58 points, good for fifth in the conference.

The post-Seguin Whalers are led by overage center Robbie Czarnik, who has a team-high 24 goals and 57 points.

Czarnik has got plenty of support from 17-year-old Texas native Stefan Noessen and rookie Rickard Rakell, who has adjusted well to the North American game after coming over from Sweden in the summer.

Plymouth has a balanced attack with eight players above 30 points (tied for second in the league) and relies on the steady netminding of Scott Wedgewood and rookie Matt Mahalak, who picked up his first career shutout Saturday over the high-octane Oshawa Generals.

And while plus-minus is an ambiguous stat, having no regulars in the lineup in the negative is remarkable for a team without an abundance of firepower.

The best part, however, is that unlike last year, the core of this team is young and will be a force in the coming years if they are able to stay together.

Their run of late is just a sign of things to come.

NOTES

Kingston Frontenacs blueliner Erik Gudbranson was handed an eight-game suspension following a flying elbow delivered to Oshawa's J.P. Labardo last weekend.

He was initially assessed a five minute major for charging and was suspended indefinitely after the following game.

OHL vice president Ted Baker stood by the lengthy ban.

"The suspension is the result of a charge on J.P. Labardo," said Baker, in a statement released by the league. "Eric left his feet, and the hit was in retribution for a hit that Labardo had just delivered to Kingston goalie Philipp Grubauer."

02/01 12:17:30 ET

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