With playoffs unlikely, Sting opted for a rebuild

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

If there's a bright side to the Sarnia Sting's season, it's that they won't be going out in the first round of the playoffs.

That's because there won't be any playoffs. It tells you the kind of season the Sting have suffered through.

Last night the London Knights handed Sarnia another loss.

"It's not good to be competitive during the regular season and wind up going out in the playoffs," said Sting co-owner Robert Ciccarelli. "This community wanted to win."

The Sting have gone out in the first round of the playoffs seven years in a row.

When this season began, the prediction was the club was going to be competitive. But as it progressed under a new coach and general manager, it became obvious for a variety of reasons the team wasn't going to be good enough to go anywhere in the playoffs.

A tough decision had to be made. Should the Sting stand pat and make the playoffs, knowing that the trip would be short?

The Sting owners, coach Shawn Camp and general manager Alan Millar decided that rebuilding should begin immediately. The Sting blew up their team. The club made deals that would benefit the team down the road, trading top players for younger ones and draft choices.

The change is reflected in the standings. The Sting have the second-worst record in the OHL.

"It's tough," Ciccarelli said. "It's tough that we're not still fighting for a playoff spot and we aren't going to make the playoffs. We never expected that to happen."

Camp and Ciccarelli used the same expression in separate interviews.

"We know it might get worse before it gets better," Camp said.

Those in the Sting organization are putting on a brave face, but it's difficult to tell the fans they have to keep waiting for this team to be successful.

But it's easier to get through the tough times because everyone believes in the direction the franchise is heading. And it's a lot easier to do that when you believe in the people leading you.

Camp and Millar are quality people who came into a situation that needed changing on and off the ice.

It's often more difficult to change culture than it is to improve talent. Teams trade veterans for young players or draft picks. They also trade to change attitude.

Sarnia did a lot of both.

The result is a young team that last night put in a credible, hard-working effort against the Knights but which falls short on talent and experience. They slugged it out last night, engaging a far more skilled London team in a several mini-brouhahas in an effort to put the game on a more equal footing.

The reality is every game the Sting play these days they stand a chance of getting waxed.

It isn't an easy sell. The Sting season-ticket base is off about 10 per cent. Last night's game didn't sell out. It sounded as though there were as many Knights fans as Sting fans present.

"The fans are very understanding because the kids work," Camp said. "All the fans want is an honest effort. We are taking it on the chin this year, but somewhere down the road it will pay off."

That payoff is at least two years away and will happen only with good drafting, planning and patience. Patience is something that has at times been in short supply in Sarnia.

"It takes time, but we're committed to the cause," Camp said. "We see the cup as half full rather than half empty."

Half full or half empty, it matters not to Sarnia fans. All they really want is one day to be able to raise that glass in celebration of something.


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