A goal by Strathroy Rockets scoring leader Brett Dalton with 25.2 seconds remaining in regulation time propelled the Rockets into sole possession of fourth place with a narrow 6-5 victory over the visiting LaSalle Vipers at the West Middlesex Memorial Centre on Saturday, November 29 in front of a sparse gathering of 349 fans.

The Rockets and the Vipers entered the contest tied for fourth place in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League Western Conference.

The Rockets finished November trailing the third place Chatham Maroons by 5 points. The Rockets lead the sixth place London Nationals by 3 points. The Vipers enjoy two games in hand on the Rockets while the Nationals have one game in hand on Strathroy.

The Rockets were 7-2 in November. They entered the month in sixth place trailing Chatham by 7 points, LaSalle by 6 points and London by 3.

The Vipers heavily protested Dalton’s game winner. With the game tied 5-5 Viper defenseman Nick Gauvin was assessed an interference penalty for leveling Rocket Mark MacAulay at the side of the Viper goal with 2:08 remaining in regulation time. With time dwindling away on the Rocket powerplay and overtime drawing near Viper defenseman Brett Langlois tried to clear the puck from the LaSalle zone. The Vipers claimed that Rocket defenseman Kurtis Sander, who was positioned in front of the Viper bench, tried to knock down the clearing attempt at the point only to have the puck glance off his glove and bounce into the neutral zone.

Rocket rearguard Matt Laberge gathered up the puck and four passes later Dalton had delivered the deathblow. Sander found Dalton unmarked at the side on the Viper goal feeding the Strathroy native with a delicious diagonal pass. It was Sander’s fifth game-winning assist of the season.

It was a bitter loss for the Vipers who had battled back from a 5-2 deficit on third period goals by Brandan Harrogate, Graham Pickard and Eric Kirby.

The Rockets had never trailed in the game leading by period scores of 2-1 and 3-2. The Vipers tied the game on three occasions.

Following Dalton’s game winner Korey Carter was handed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while head coach/GM Bill Bowler was ejected from the game.

Nathan Veres also scored for LaSalle while Pickard had two goals on the night.

Stuart King scored a pair of third period powerplay goal for the Rockets to give them the seemingly comfortable three-goal lead. Sander, Sam Vokes and Kieran Milne also scored for the Rockets.

Nick Boyer had another outstanding game for the Rockets. He set up three of the Rockets goals. Sander also earned three assists to go along with his goal.

Mat Ouellet improved his record to 14-8 while Eli Billing saw his record fall to 5-6. Ouellet leads all GOJHL goaltenders in minutes played and saves. Billing made several outstanding saves in the first period.

The wide-open affair saw the Rockets outshoot the Vipers 41-40.

Despite having just a single minor penalty called in the first period, some undisciplined Viper play allowed the Rockets to capitalize 3 times on 9 powerplay opportunities. Twice in the contest the Rockets enjoyed 5-on-3 chances, one for 1:08 and the other for 1:33. The Rockets scored once with a two-man advantage. The Rockets are 3 for 18 in five-on-three situations this season.

The Vipers were 1 for 4 with the man advantage.

The win improved the Rockets’ home winning streak to 7 games. The Vipers lead the season series 3 games to 2. The remaining game will be played in LaSalle on January 14. The Rockets have won just a single game in LaSalle in the past four seasons.

Since dealing their former captain Tyler Duarte to the Leamington Flyers, the Rockets are 10-3. All three losses, to Leamington, Sarnia and LaSalle, are just by a single goal.

The Vipers were running with a very short bench. Just 15 skaters were dressed for the game. Nikko Sablone and Dalton Langlois were sitting out suspensions. To complicate matters for the Vipers Daniel Beaudoin was sent to the showers at 6:12 of the third period for three stick violations and leading scorer Brett Primeau hobbled to the dressing room shortly after the Vipers had tied the match at 5-5.

The Rockets were playing without Jack Kilgour, Nick Whitworth and Jacob Rody who were all serving suspensions. Call-up Austin Blais looked quite poised on the blueline playing in his first game on defense with the Rockets.

The Chatham Maroons will be making their first visit of the year to Strathroy this Saturday while the Vipers will host Lambton Shores on Wednesday and travel to Memorial Arena in Chatham on Sunday to battle the Maroons.

David Honsberger

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