Sarnia, Ontario is a town of 73,000 people sitting on the shores of Lake Huron, where it meets the St. Clair river and flows south to Lake Erie. In the heart of “Chemical Valley,” it’s easy to know when you’re approaching Sarnia by the brightly lit chemical, gas, and oil refineries surrounding the outskirts of the city.
A small town, blue-collar feel helps cement Sarnia’s place as a historically stereotypical OHL host city. The Sarnia Sting have called the town home since the 1994-95 season, when the Newmarket Royals were bought by NHLer Dino Ciccarelli and his brother Robert, and moved to their hometown (the brothers sold the team in 2015 to Derian Hatcher and David Legwand).
In 2006, after his team won the OHL Cup, Steven Stamkos was drafted first overall in the OHL priority selection draft. Stamkos was taken ahead of NHLers Michael Del Zotto (2nd, Oshawa Generals), Alex Pietrangelo (3rd, Mississauga IceDogs), Nazem Kadri (18th. Kitchener Rangers), and Zach Bogosian (19th, Peterborough Petes).
In Stamkos’ first season in the OHL he quickly worked his way up to being the team’s number one centre, a big achievement for a 16 year old. The Sting that year were talented, but featured only one other NHL bound player, current Toronto Maple Leafs forward Matt Martin. While the team was good, they weren’t a match for their divisional rivals in the OHL’s West Division. The team finished with a 34-24-5-5 record, good for fourth in the division and a playoff series against the Kitchener Rangers.
Big things were not in the Sting’s cards as they were swept by the Rangers in round one, ending Stamkos’ rookie OHL season rather quickly. As a 16 year old, Stamkos fared well on the score sheet, however. He led the Sting in goals, 42, was third in assists with 50, and led the team in points with 92. Stamkos finished his rookie season 12th overall in points, well back of leaders Patrick Kane (145) and John Tavares (134). That season he was named centre on the OHL second All-Star team, finishing behind Sam Ganger. Stamkos won one award, the Bobby Smith Trophy that was awarded to the scholastic player of the year, for achievements on the ice and in the classroom.
Stamkos represented the Sarnia Sting in the 2007 OHL All Star Classic, and scored two goals and two assists as the Western Conference fell to the Eastern Conference, 13-9, in Saginaw, Michigan.
Coming into his second OHL season, Stamkos didn’t fare much better with the Sting than the previous season. The team was average at best and again finished in the middle of the pack in their division. Sarnia won their first round series, upsetting the #3 seed Windsor Spitfires in five games, before being swept by the Kitchener Rangers for the second year in a row. Stamkos scored 11 goals in the playoffs, but tally no assists.
Despite the middling performance, the Sting did not trade Stamkos at the OHL trade deadline, instead holding onto hope that whichever team drafted him would return him to the OHL the following season.
In his NHL draft year, Stamkos played again in the OHL All-Star Classic, where he scored one goal and add two assists, as the East beat the West again. this time 98-7 in a shootout.
Stamkos also participated in the CHL Top Prospects game, a national All-Star game for the three CHL leagues, OHL, WHL, and QMJHL, where the best draft eligible players show off for an arena full of scouts. Stamkos suited up alongside Jordan Eberle, Mikkel Boedker, Drew Doughty, and Alex Pietrangelo for Team Red, who fell 8-4 to Team White, led by Cody Hodgson, Jared Staal, Tyler Myers, and Luke Schenn.
In his final OHL season, Steven Stamkos finished fifth in OHL scoring with 105 points - 58 goals (2nd overall) and 47 assists (21st) for 105 points. Justin Azevedo led the OHL with 124 points — he is currently playing for Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL.
Steven Stamkos’s OHL career was tragically short for OHL fans, as he left for the Tampa Bay Lightning that summer and never looked back. [Yay. - Acha]