ROCKETS SLIDE CONTINUES
The Strathroy Rockets (4-7-1-3) losing streak stretched to seven games after a pair of weekend losses. The first place Leamington Flyers (12-2-1-0) easily skated to a 4-1 win at the West Middlesex Memorial Centre on Saturday, October 24 before the Rockets were embarrassed 6-1 the following night at the Memorial Arena in Chatham (7-4-1-1) to the surging Maroons in Western Conference action in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The losses dropped the Rockets to seventh place, four points below the Maroons and the Sarnia Legionnaires (7-5-1-1), who are tied for fifth place, and four points ahead of the eighth place Lambton Shores Predators (3-10-0-2).
Saturday in front of another sparse gathering of 322 at the WMMC, the Rockets were no match for the Flyers’ special teams. Leamington scored a pair of powerplay goals and a pair of shorthanded markers to secure the win. Their second shorthanded goal by captain Mitch Amante, came at 16:47 of the third period with Rocket goaltender Mat Ouellet on the bench for an extra attacker with Flyer Scott Emerson off serving a slashing penalty.
The Flyers jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead with a dominating performance in the opening period. Their passing was sharp and precision-like as they effortlessly cut a swath through the Rockets. They exited their defensive zone effortlessly and moved the puck through the neutral zone with confidence.
Matthew Opblinger got them on the board early after blocking a Dante Copps point shot on a Rockets’ powerplay. His quick snap shot beat Ouellet cleanly at 6:28.
Joe Urbanic found a loose puck on a scramble in front of Ouellet on a Flyer powerplay at 15:00 to give the Flyers the 2-0 cushion.
After being heavily outplayed in the opening twenty minutes, the Rockets regrouped and came out with an excellent effort in the second period outshooting the Flyers and controlling the play. They were rewarded for their efforts when T.J. Harris scored his first career Rocket goal at 11:20 to cut the Flyer lead to 2-1. The goal was a bit of a fluky one. Speeding down the left wing, Harris dumped the puck into the Flyer zone. The puck took a strange bounce off of the backboards and bounced unexpectedly in front of the Flyer goal. Harris’ backhand shot beat rookie netminder Tyler Wall before he could get set for the shot.
The third period was fairly evenly played. The Rockets pressed for the tying goal and had their best chance when the Flyers sent two players to the penalty box. It was clear to see why the Flyers have the top penalty killing rating in the Western Conference. They killed off the 56-second five-on-three allowing no Rocket shots on goal.
The Flyers earned the all important insurance goal at 14:57 on a powerplay when Thomas Virban’s screened point shot found the top corner behind Ouellet.
The Flyers sealed the deal less than two minutes later with Amante’s shorthanded empty net marker.
Final shots favoured Leamington 43-39. The Flyers were 2 for 5 with the man advantage while the Rockets were unsuccessful in 8 attempts.
The following night a balanced attack from the Chatham Maroons combined with a deadly powerplay extended the Rockets misery.
The Maroons overpowered the Rockets in the first period outshooting their opponents 21-4 and outscoring them 4-0 as they coasted to an easy 6-1 win.
Six different Maroons found the scoresheet. Chatham has lost only one of their last 7 games.
Dane Gubbels was outstanding in the Rocket goal in the opening period and was mercifully relieved by Ouellet for the final two periods.
Ian Faubert, who sits second in Western Conference scoring, opened the scoring at 8:48 on a 5-on-3 opportunity. Faubert was set up on a lovely passing play from Gus Ford and captain Brayden Hopkins.
Teddy McGeen added a shorthanded marker at 14:36 on a two-on-one rush before goals at 16:07 by defenseman DeDe Cato, who intercepted a poor pass by Kieran Milne, and a powerplay jam play by Luc Knight at 19:48. Cato leads all Western Conference defensemen in scoring.
To the Rockets’ credit they put out a much greater effort in the second period outshooting the Maroons 14-11 but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
Steven Beenackers increased the lead to 5-0 with 7 seconds left in the period.
Austin Thompson thrilled the 702 Maroon fans with a great individual effort to give the Maroons a 6-0 lead at 3:48 of the final period.
Matt McGhee broke Parker Butler’s shutout bid at 8:53 with a deadly shot from the top of the faceoff circle which cleanly beat the netminder. The goal on the rush on a Rocket powerplay.
The Maroons outshot the Rockets 17-10 in the period and 49-28 over sixty minutes.
The Rockets were 1 for 7 on the powerplay while the Maroons were 3 for 10.
The Maroons will play Wednesday in LaSalle and Thursday in Sarnia before hosting the St. Thomas Stars on Sunday.
The Rockets will travel to Leamington on Thursday and host LaSalle on Saturday at the WMMC.
(Photo credit – Helen Heath)