A 7-4 London Nationals setback to the Strathroy Rockets at the WMMC in Strathroy on Valentine’s Day has severely hampered their chances in securing fifth place.

The loss leaves London 5 points below the fifth place Rockets with just three London games yet to play. The Rockets have two games left in their regular season.

Still very involved in the hunt for a higher seed are the St. Thomas Stars. The Stars remain one point ahead of the Nats and four behind the Rockets.

Looming large is a Family Day matinee at the Western Fair between the Nats and the Stars. A St. Thomas win combined with a Stars’ win over the last place St. Marys Lincolns at the Timkin Centre in St. Thomas on Thursday could set up a final day showdown between the Stars and the Rockets at the WMMC on Saturday. The Rockets only other game will be played in Leamington against the first place Flyers. Leamington has lost just a single game at the Heinz Arena all season.

The Rockets and the Nats were involved in a wild and volatile affair at the WMMC on a windy, snowy and stormy night.

The Rockets saw a 3-0 first period lead evaporate when the Nats exploded for four second-period goals as the two teams headed into the second intermission tied at 4-4.

The Rockets broke the draw with a pair of goals and an empty net marker to secure the win.

National’s goaltender Connor Hughes seemed to struggle throughout the game, especially in the first period.

Both teams had nine powerplay chances but London’s penalties seemed to come at crucial times in the game. They also gave the Rockets two 2-man advantages. It cost the Nats dearly as the Rockets tallied four-powerplay goals, a season high. The Nats scored twice with the man advantage.

Sam Vokes led the Rocket attack with a hat trick and an assist. All three of Vokes’ goals came on the powerplay. Stuart King opened the scoring at 4:43 of the first period and scored the game winner with a deadly backhand shot from the deep slot that fooled Hughes at 2:28 of the third period. Dan Chapman also scored for the Rockets and Ocean Check secured the win with an empty net goal.

National’s captain Derek Todosichuk put his team in a big hole when he was assessed a major penalty and an automatic game ejection for a dangerous cross check to Rocket Mark MacAulay with 5:06 remaining in regulation time. It was also Todosichuk’s third stick violation of the game.

Despite playing a man short, Nationals head coach Kelly Thomson pulled Hughes for the extra attacker with over three minutes remaining in regulation time resulting in the Check empty net goal.

Earlier in the period Rocket defenseman Marcus Baird was the clear winner in a bout with Nationals rearguard Anthony Kotsovos much to the delight of the 466 fans in attendance.

The Nationals outshot the Rockets 38-37. Mat Ouellet earned the win in goal for the Rockets. Ouellet also assisted on Vokes’ first period goal giving the Rocket goaltender 7 assists on the season, easily eclipsing the previous franchise record of 4 set by K.J. Robinson.

The Rockets win evened the season series at three wins each.

Dan Chapman had three assists to go along with his goal for a four-point night. It was just the second 3-assist performance in a single game by a Rocket this year. Brett Dalton had the other.

Vokes had an assist along with his three goals for his second 4-point night of the season, the only Rocket to do so this season.

The game also marked the return of Matt Laberge on the Rocket defense after an eight-game absence with a foot injury.

Kyle Robinson, Austin Kemp, Todosichuk and Drew Worrad scored for the Nationals.

The Entertainment Tonight Players of the Game for the Rockets were Vokes, Chapman and King.

David Honsberger

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