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On a night the Stanley Cup came back to Plymouth and the Whalers honored Chad LaRose, Plymouth left wing Tom Sestito put on a LaRose-type of performance in a game against Sudbury on Dec. 8 at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Just before the game, LaRose's parents - Sandy and Grant - participated in a ceremonial faceoff at center ice with the Stanley Cup and Plymouth captain Steve Ward and Sudbury captain Marc Staal.

There was a certain symmetry to Staal participating in the ceremonial faceoff. His older brother, Eric, helped Carolina win the Cup last season. And since LaRose was on the road with the Hurricanes in Vancouver, his parents were excellent pinch-hitters.

Then Sestito went to work, in a big way, scoring a hat trick in his second consecutive game as the Whalers won their sixth straight game, 5-3, over Wolves.

Sestito - a Columbus Blue Jackets' draft choice - has four hat tricks this season and leads the Whalers with 20 goals in 27 games. Plymouth's leading scorer, Evan Brophey, scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 4:34 of the third period when he deflected James Neal's shot from the right wing in the Sudbury zone past goaltender Kevin Beech. Brophey - a Chicago Blackhawks' draft choice - added an assist and leads the Whalers with 12 goals and 40 assists for 52 points in 30 games.

Brophey's goal snapped a 3-3 tie and gave Plymouth the lead for good after Sudbury came back from deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2.

After a scoreless first period, Joe McCann game the Whalers a 1-0 lead at 5:21 of the second period when he batted home a loose puck by Beech at 5:21. Sudbury's Kevin Baker scored his 15th of the season to tie the game at 1-1 at 12:22 of the second period when he tucked a low shot by Plymouth goaltender Jeremy Smith. Sestito scored his first goal at 13:40 of the period when he intercepted a Sudbury pass at the Wolves blue line and beat Beech with a back hand shot for short handed goal. After Sudbury's Jesse Messier scored his 13th of the year to tie the game at 2-2 at 16:58, Sestito gave Plymouth a 3-2 lead with 23 second left in the period when he tucked a shot through traffic on the right wing side of the Sudbury goal.

Akim Aliu ripped a shot by Smith from the left wing door step by Smith for his 11th of the year to tie the game at 3-3 at 3:07 of the third period. But Brophey came right back with the game-winner 1:27 later.

Smith preserved the lead when he stopped Sudbury's Nick Foligno on a penalty shot at 14:08 of the period. Foligno moved in up the middle to the hashmarks in the Plymouth zone and Smith slid to his right to make the save.

Sudbury head coach Mike Foligno pulled Beech with 1:15 remaining and a face-off in the Plymouth zone, but Sestito scored an empty net goal at 19:20 of the period when he outraced Sudbury defenders for the loose puck and jammed it home.

Meanwhile, Sestito's work netted him the Ontario Hockey League's Player of the Week Award.

Sestito's four hat tricks so far this season puts him in some exclusive company in Whalers' history. Sean Haggerty had six hat tricks in 1995-96, when he scored 60 goals. Harold Druken had four regular-season hat tricks and one playoff hat trick in 1998-99, when he led the OHL with 58 goals. Ironically, when LaRose broke the Whalers' single-season record with 61 goals in 2002-03, he had two hat tricks.

The Whalers complete the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule Dec.14 in Peterborough, Dec. 15 in Oshawa and Dec. 17 in Brampton before returning home Thurs. Dec. 28 at 2:00 p.m. to host Windsor on Kid's Day at the Compuware Sports Arena.

BUSY WEEKEND ON THE ROAD UPCOMING FOR PLYMOUTH

The Whalers complete the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule this weekend with three games on the road, playing Thursday in Peterborough, Friday in Oshawa and Sunday in Brampton.

Plymouth (19-10-1-1) comes into the weekend four points behind first-place Saginaw. The Spirit is also on the road this weekend, playing in Kitchener on Friday, in Erie on Saturday and in Oshawa on Sunday.

Peterborough comes into Thursday's game with Plymouth at the .500 mark (16-16-0-0) amid some talk that they move their older players to contending teams before the Jan. 10 trading deadline.

In fact, several teams (Guelph, Erie and Windsor - among others) appear to be in a similar situation as Peterborough.

Petes' general manager Jeff Twohey admits there's some interest around the league in veterans Dan Ryder and Steve Downie.

"This is not a case where we are, in any way, trying to get rid of Steve or Daniel," Twohey told the Peterborough Examiner. "The ball started rolling with the contending teams inquiring. What concerned me is that once teams start inquiring and I start talking then rumors start. I talked to both Steve and Daniel and made it clear to them that this is not something that is initiated by us but teams that are approaching us and we have to listen."

Teams interested in acquiring Ryder or Downie may have to pay a hefty price. Saginaw acquired Ryan O'Marra earlier this season for Zach Torquato, a second round pick and a fourth round pick.

In any case, you'll see no trading until after Dec. 28. There's a mandatory freeze on trades in the OHL between Dec.19-28.

The Whalers won't see Downie or Ryder on Thursday. Downie's at Canada's camp in preparation of the World Junior Championship and Ryder will be serving the second game of a two-game suspension.

Plymouth defeated Peterborough, 6-1, at the Compuware Sports Arena on Nov. 25.

The Whalers will get the first look at the brand-new General Motors Centre in Oshawa on Friday against a team that likes to score goals, but was thumped, 11-5, against Mississauga on Sunday.

"Team defense was horrible, the defense was horrible, the goaltenders were horrible and I'm horrible. That's they way I feel," Oshawa General Manager and Head Coach Brad Selwood told durhamregion.com after the game. "You can make excuses that we are missing key people, but so were they. So we have no excuse."

Oshawa (13-14-0-3) is lead offensively by John Tavares (29-26-55), Brett MacLean (22-21-43), Cal Clutterbuck (15-24-39) and Dale Mitchell (19-13-32) and defenseman Michael Del Zotto - taken second overall in the OHL Draft last spring - is already making an impact. But Oshawa has given up an Eastern Conference-high 165 goals, just second to Erie's 167.

Like the Whalers' James Neal, Tavares is away at Canada's World Junior Canada camp. The Generals' backup goaltender is Anthony Peters, the younger brother of former Whalers goaltender Justin Peters.

Plymouth defeated Brampton, 6-3, on Oct. 20 at the Compuware Sports Arena. The game featured Sestito's first hat trick of the season. The Battalion has been hot-and-cold and is fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-17-1-2.

Brampton hosts Mississauga on Thursday at home and plays in Sudbury on Friday before returning home Sunday to host the Whalers.

You can hear the games on Plymouth Whalers, with Thursday's broadcast starting at 6:50 p.m. from Peterborough's Memorial Centre, Friday's broadcast at 7:20 p.m. from Oshawa's General Motors Centre and Sunday's broadcast at 1:50 p.m. from Brampton's Powerade Centre.

INTERMISSION SKATE DURING A WHALERS GAME

Two intermission skates are available for every home game, but hurry and sign up before the date you want is filled. Besides having a great night out with your team watching a Whalers game, the team gets to skate in front of Whalers fans during an intermission and all kids 12-and-under in the group get to go on a locker room tour after the game to meet all the Whalers players and get autographs. For more information, contact Natalie Shaver at 734-453-8400 or [email protected].
 
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