The visiting St. Thomas Stars took over sole possession of second place in the Western Conference standings of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League with a 5-4 double overtime victory over the Strathroy Rockets in a match played at the West Middlesex Memorial Centre on Saturday, October 10, 2015.

Ryan Valentini, recently reassigned from the OHL London Knights, was the overtime hero for the Stars when he ripped a wrist shot over the shoulder of Rocket goaltender Mat Ouellet on a two-on-one opportunity at 1:10 of the second overtime period. It was Valentini’s fourth goal in four games since rejoining the Stars.

The Stars moved two points ahead of the idle London Nationals and trail the front-running Leamington Flyers by 7 points.

In other action Saturday night, a LaSalle Viper 5-2 win over the Lambton Shores Predators moved the Vipers into a fourth place tie with the Rockets.

The Stars were hard pressed for the win by the hard-working but inexperienced Rocket squad. St. Thomas started the season losing just 25% of its scoring from the previous year while the Rockets had their roster depleted losing 88% of their scoring punch from the previous season.

The Rockets skated stride-for-stride with the Stars over the first two periods in a see-saw battle. The two teams were tied 1-1 after one period and 2-2 after 2 periods. The Rockets outshot the Stars 24-21 after two periods.

The Stars burst out of the gate in the third period outshooting the hometown Rockets 24-9 throughout the third period and overtime. They held a huge advantage in territorial play and if not for some fine goaltending from Rocket netminder Ouellet and some lucky Rocket bounces the game would have never moved to overtime. The Rockets were outshot 8-2 during the overtime session.

The Stars were full measure for the win while the gutsy Rockets squeaked out another point for an overtime loss as they had two days earlier in Sarnia.

The Rockets were unable to contain the Stars’ top four scorers. Besides Valentini, leading scorer Carson Brookshaw tallied twice while Matt McJannet and Spencer Hutchinson added singles. McJannet also added three assists for a four-point evening.

It was the Rockets who found the scoreboard first when rookie Turner Balasin found the back of the net for his first goal as a Rocket on a rebound on a point shot from Rocket defenseman Dalton Good just 2:36 into the contest. Good had a solid game for the Rockets earning a pair of assists and finishing the game a +2.

Seconds later the Stars Adam Keyes handed out the biggest hit of the night when he caught Rocket defenseman Evan Hogg with his head down in the neutral zone.

The Stars evened the game just over six minutes later when Brookshaw scored his first of the night on a powerplay with Lucas Latina in the penalty box for high sticking. Latina entered the game as the GOJHL penalty leader with 60 PIM.

Oullete made an outstanding pad save on a cross crease pass the Brookshaw from McJannet, but Brookshaw gathered up his own rebound and fired it over the prone Rocket goaltender.

The powerplay goal was a welcome relief for Stars’ coaching staff as the Stars’ powerplay has sputtered thus far this season. It would be the only powerplay goal of the game. The Stars converted one of four chances while the Rockets were unsuccessful in just two opportunites. St. Thomas is one of the least penalized teams in the GOJHL.

The Stars took the lead for the first time in the game at 7:32 of the second period capitalizing on some shoddy Rocket defensive play. Hutchinson picked up the goal moments after Rocket defenseman Noah Tooke was drilled into the boards by Brookshaw. As the Rockets looked around for a penalty, Hutchinson slipped in behind the Rocket defense to put the Stars up 2-1.
Latina was ejected from the game at 12:48 of the second period after drawing his third stick violation.3

With just 1:14 remaining in the second period, the Rockets tied the score at 2-2 when Codey McRoberts outfought the Stars defense to a long breakaway pass from Good. Catching up to the puck right in front of Stars goaltender Nik Dampier, McRoberts stretched out and one-handed a chip shot past the Stars’ netminder.

With the ice slanted heavily in the Stars favour in the third period, the Stars twice took the lead only to have the Rockets tie the game on both occasions.

The Stars went up 3-2 just 13 seconds into the period on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play where all five Stars’ skaters touched the puck with McJannet tucking the puck behind Ouellet.

After being outplayed by a very wide margin during the first half of the third period the Rockets caught a huge break to tie the game at 3-3 at 11:12. On one of their few rushes into the Stars’ defensive zone a centering pass from Matt McGhee from behind the Stars’ net deflected off of McJannet’s skate and behind a helpless Dampier.

The tie was very short lived as the Stars took the lead once again only 32 seconds later. Brookshaw tallied his second of the night when he took advantage of a Shane Bulitka turnover in the Rocket defensive zone.

The Stars had the game on cruise control until Balasin notched his second of the night on a one-time blast from a drop pass from Steve Griggs with 2:17 remaining in regulation time.

The overtime sessions were less than entertaining. The play was fragmented and sluggish with no flow evident from either team. Both clubs appeared too tired and mentally fatigued to generate any quality chances to end the contest until the Valentini game winner.

The Rockets’ lone chance in extra time came in the opening moments of the second overtime when Matt McGhee slipped in behind the Stars’ defense.  Dampier came up with his biggest save of the night just seonds before the Valentini game winner.

The Rockets will travel to Sarnia for the second time in two weeks this Thursday before hosting the London Nationals on Saturday.

The Stars will host the Chatham Maroons on Thursday before traveling to the Pyramid Recreation Centre on Friday to engage the St. Marys Lincolns.

David Honsberger

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