Can anyone stop the Leamington Flyers?

They are 22-3-1 in their last 26 games and hold a very comfortable 11-point first place lead in the Western Conference of the GOJHL.

On Saturday, January 17 at the West Middlesex Memorial Centre in Strathroy the Flyers doubled up the Rockets 4-2. The Flyers lead their season series with the Rockets 4 games to 1 with one game yet to be played. That will occur on the Flyers’ final home game of the regular season on February 19. The Flyers have been nearly invincible at home losing just once to a Western Conference opponent all season.

Leamington outshot Strathroy in all three periods and held a 44-32 advantage over sixty minutes of play.

It was a robust, high tempo game that clearly demonstrated that the Flyers are equally adept at playing on the tiny ice surface in Strathroy as they are at home on the Olympic-sized ice surface at the Heinz Arena.

Even more impressive for the Flyers was the fact that they played the final 23:46 with only four defensemen after Ryan Muzzin and Blaine Bechard were both ejected for checks from behind.

The Flyers came close to losing three defensemen in the game when Ryan Shipley was handed a cross checking penalty 33 seconds into the contest that could have easily been called a check from behind.

The Rockets capitalized on the ensuing powerplay when Joe Seney redirected a Kurtis Sander shot from the point in heavy traffic in front of Flyer goaltender Michael Barnett at 1:27.

With Rockets Mark MacAulay off serving a goaltender interference call, former Rocket captain Tyler Duarte saw his shot from the point find its way into the top corner past a screened Mat Ouellet in the Rocket goal at 5:31 to tie the match at 1-1.

The Flyers took a 2-1 lead at 2:08 of the second period when Rocket defenseman Matt Laberge turned the puck over after he lost an edge behind the Rocket net. Chris Scott was the beneficiary as he was left alone in front of Ouellet.

At 11:31 and 16:14 the Flyers lost Muzzin and Bechard for checks from behind, both on Rocket forward Sam Vokes.

Late in the period Rocket Stuart King nearly tied the match when his shot from the right wing squeaked through Barrett but stayed out of the net.

King tied the game at 38 seconds of the third period when Barrett fanned on a shot from just inside the Flyer blueline on a Rocket rush.

Flyer Zack Guilbeault and Rocket Matt Knight-Bedour were sent to the showers after a brief tilt at 5:05.

With King serving a kneeing penalty on Duarte, Eric Henderson converted on the resulting powerplay after some lovely passing by Shipley and a deadly diagonal pass from Flyer captain Mitch Amante. The goal at 7:45 would stand up as the game winner.

With the Rockets looking for the equalizer late in the period Kyle Quick scored an insurance marker between Ouellet’s pads after some more slick passing from Henderson on a 3-on-2 rush.

The Rockets inability to capitalize on special teams was a determining factor in the outcome of the game. Twice the Rockets enjoyed 5-on-3 advantages, one for 51 seconds and the other for 53 seconds, but failed to convert.

The Flyers physically dominated the Rockets handing out several punishing body checks. They were also very effective clogging up the neutral zone and breaking up the Rockets’ attack.

The Rockets were missing forwards Nick Boyer, Kieran Milne and Ocean Check who are all sidelined with injuries.

The loss left the Rockets two points behind fourth place LaSalle.

The Flyers have a busy week ahead of them travelling to London on Wednesday, before hosting St. Thomas on Thursday and Sarnia on Sunday.

The Rockets will be in St. Thomas on Friday and host Chatham on Saturday.

The Entertainment Tonight Players of the Game for the Rockets were MacAulay, King and defenseman Marcus Baird.

David Honsberger

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