Sting defencemen get straight A’s for leadership

The Sarnia Sting are counting on their veteran defencemen to be leaders on the blue-line and in the dressing room.

Sarnia Sting alternate captain Ryan Mast, left, and Guelph Storm's Braeden Bowman watch the play at Progressive Auto Sales Arena in Sarnia, Ont., on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. Mark Malone/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network

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The Sarnia Sting are counting on their veteran defencemen to be leaders on the blue-line and in the dressing room.

Four rearguards – Ashton Reesor, Cameron Supryka, Nolan Dillingham and Ryan Mast – will serve as alternate captains this season.

“There’s no secret on what our strength is,” Sting head coach Alan Letang said. “Our strength’s our goaltending and our back end. Those guys are going to log big minutes for us. They’re important parts of our team.”

Overage forward Brayden Guy is the captain. The four defencemen, like Guy, are wearing letters for the first time.

“It’s great to put those guys in those positions,” Letang said. “Maybe they get uncomfortable early on, but then when they settle in, … that leadership that you generate is organic. It’s not just manufactured because someone slaps an A on your jersey. Those guys have done the right things this training camp.”

Leadership doesn’t come naturally to all players, but he’s confident the defensive quartet will fill their roles well.

“It’s hard to ask teenagers to be leaders amongst their peers,” Letang said. “They all still want to be buddy-buddy. It’s hard to hold your peers accountable at times and they have to figure out ways to do it that are effective.

“They don’t always have to be the cheerleader. Some guys aren’t vocal. Some guys do it through example. Some guys, they can go over and quietly give a young guy a pat on the back and be like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get a little bit better in practice,’ or, ‘We can’t make that play in a game.’ Other guys show a little bit more emotion and, on the ice, it might be from a big hit or getting the team going in other ways.”

Those four alternate captains have played a combined total of 324 OHL regular season and playoff games after Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Guelph Storm.

“They have to find their little niche as a leadership group and figure out what our dressing room needs and what our team needs at that stage of the game,” Letang said. “Some of the best leaders in hockey, even in junior, they just know what the team wants or they find a way to pick the team up when they seem a little bit down.”

Reesor, 20, is starting his third season in Sarnia. After a promising rookie campaign in 2018-19, he was limited to only seven games in 2019-20.

“Ash is coming back from a pretty serious nagging back injury and he worked real hard this summer,” Letang said. “He’s starting to show his form.”

Mast, 18, was a Boston Bruins sixth-round pick in this year’s NHL draft.

“We expect big things from Ryan,” Letang said. “He’s got to take charge of that back end and decide what type of player he wants to be in this league. He can be a dominant, dominant force both defensively for us and contributing on the offence.”

Dillingham, 19, was a full-time OHLer for the first time in 2019-20 after joining the Sting midway through the previous season.

“We stress that importance of hard work and coming prepared, and you have a guy like Dilly. Dilly comes into camp and he’s in the best shape of his junior career and wins the award for fittest player,” Letang said.

Supryka, 20, was acquired in June 2020 from Hamilton in exchange for defenceman Colton Kammerer, who’s now the Bulldogs captain.

“He’s a pretty skilled defenceman that we’re going to need to use to help us with our power play,” Letang said. “He’s good with pucks where he can skate himself out of trouble. He’s pretty driven to have a good year and try to become a pro.

“Those little habits, they rub off on the young guys. They see him in the gym, they see how hard he works at practice and you can lead by example that way.”

Losing streak hits four games

The Sting came oh-so-close again Friday before suffering their fourth straight loss in front of 2,255 fans at Progressive Auto Sales Arena.

They’ve already dropped three one-goal decisions this season after falling to the Storm 2-1.

Nolan Burke scored his team-leading sixth goal and Anson Thornton made 39 saves for the Sting (1-2-2-0).

After scoring six in a season-opening win, the Sting have managed only eight goals during their skid.

They went 0-for-4 on the power play Friday and are now 0-for-14 on the season.

Braeden Bowman of the Storm snapped a 1-1 tie 59 seconds into the third period on a power play with a shot from the right circle.

Sasha Pastujov scored the Storm’s other goal at 8:34 of the second period after a turnover in Sarnia’s end. Burke answered seven minutes later on a two-on-one with Ty Voit.

Storm goalie Jacob Oster made 35 saves.

The Sting will visit London on Friday, Oct. 29, and Owen Sound on Saturday, Oct. 30. Their next home game is Friday, Nov. 5, against Saginaw.