Could this actually be a Sting turnaround?

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:45 PM ET

It isn’t quite the rebuilding of Rome, it just took that long.

And while there is a solid foundation, it’s going to take a little while longer — barring unforeseen issues — for the project to be completed.

The Sarnia Sting are a lot further along than they were a year ago. While they sit in ninth place in the OHL’s Western Conference, they’re playing .500 hockey. The tight conference has six teams, fifth to 10th separated by seven points.

“We just have to put a run together,” said coach Dave MacQueen. “We lost five games in a row early in the season then went 8-2 to get back into it.

“Just before Christmas, we lost four in a row and now have won two in a row. You can move up or down in a hurry as tight as the conference is and in the second half of the season, most of your games are against teams in your own conference.”

The Sting play the London Knights in a home-and-home, Friday and Saturday.

The Knights are tied with the Guelph Storm for sixth place in the Western Conference, one point up on the Sting.

Win twice against the Knights and it’s an eight-point difference, four points your team earned and four points you prevented the other team from earning. Lose two and you suffer the same fate.

The Knights are going into Friday’s game in Sarnia at 4 p.m. with a three-game winning streak. The two teams meet back at the John Labatt Centre New Year’s Day at 7 p.m.

The Sting is a franchise that has struggled mightily in recent years. But this is a year when there appears to be a real turnaround.

It isn’t the first time Sting fans have heard that. In fact, they’ve heard it every year for the past six or seven.

But this is not the same old, same old.

This Sting team has some dynamic players and they have a chance to present those dynamic players for several years to come.

“I think we are exciting to watch,” MacQueen said. “As a coach, it drives you crazy sometimes because there are times when defensively we’re not very good but skill-wise and excitement-wise, we have some talent.”

Import Nail Yakupov and first pick in last year’s OHL priority draft Alex Galchenyuk are worth the price of admission.

They can skate and dangle with the puck. Yakupov is second on the Sting in scoring and leads in goal scoring with 23. Galchenyuk recently went through a 12-game goalless streak, but still has 10 goals and 26 assists.

The Sting leading scorer is former Knight Kale Kerbashian. He has 21 goals and 28 assists.

In years past, it’s been the Knights with most of the flash. The Knights have become the lunch-bucket brigade this year while it’s the Sting with the shake and bake.

“The first year which was last year, we knew we weren’t going to be a good team. At least we wanted to be competitive most nights,” MacQueen said. “The main mandate was to get all our draft picks back. We were missing a lot of main picks and high-end picks. We were able to do that and we needed to address our skill level and we did that.”

The attractive package that players sich as Yakupov present has helped this franchise stop the bleeding not only in the standings but also at the gate. Attendance was in a free fall, but this year it has leveled out and average attendance is at around 3,200.

“I think people are still waiting to see,” MacQueen said. “We’ve turned the corner but people have heard that before.”

What’s left is to prove that things are indeed different.

Making the playoffs would be good and winning a playoff round would also help. But MacQueen isn’t about to give up long-term gain for instant gratification.

“We know we aren’t a championship team this year,” he said. “It would be nice to get these guys a taste of the playoffs even if it’s only for four games or seven. We will trade but we aren’t going to give our players away. We will only trade for players that will help us in the future.”

It’s a future that may finally fulfill the promises.


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