The Strathroy Rockets (4-8-1-1) were shutout 2-0 by the first place Leamington Flyers (13-2-1-0) on Thursday, October 29 at the Highbury Canco Arena in Leamington in Western Conference action in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.

The loss extended the Rockets’ losing streak to 8 games, their longest futility skid in the past 21 years. The 2007-08 Rockets had a 7-game losing streak. Twenty-two years ago, the 1994-95 Rockets lost the first 26 games of the season. It was the first year of the reborn Rockets having changed their name back to the Rockets from the Blades. Two years later the Rockets finished in first place, were league champs and were competing for a Sutherland Cup.

After a very evenly played first period where both teams registered 12 shots on goal, the Flyers smothered the Rockets outshooting them 21-2 in the second period and 17-11 in the third for a game total of 50-25.

Rookie defenseman Nicolas Mainella tallied the only goal of the first period, and his first as a Flyer, when he skated coast-to-coast, straight up the middle of the ice and ripped a wrist shot past Rocket netminder Mat Ouellet at 15:10 on a Flyers’ powerplay. Goaltender Michael Barrett drew an assist on the play. The goal would stand up as the game winner.

The only other goal came at 3:17 of the second period. Zach Guilbeault kept the puck in at the Rockets’ blueline and fed Matthew Opblinger along the sideboards. Opblinger carried the puck behind the Rockets’ goal eventually throwing the puck in front of the Rocket net. Despite being covered heavily by the Rocket defense, Cale Phibbs made contact and the puck surprisingly deflected into the Rocket goal.

Both teams had 5 powerplay opportunities in the game. The Flyers, who boast the second best penalty kill in the GOJHL, have allowed just 1 powerplay by the Rockets in 22 chances this season.

The game was highlighted by three scraps, much to the delight of the 725 spectators.
In response to some chippy play last Saturday in Strathroy between the two clubs, Flyer Luke Sanko and Rocket Matt McGhee attended to some unfinished business at 7:58 of the first period.
Less than three minutes later at 10:51 Rocket mighty mite Nick Griffin tangled with Flyer captain Jacob McGhee. Resembling a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu event more than a hockey fight, the two antagonists wrestled each other to the mat and were promptly ejected from the game.

The main event came at 8:38 of the third period when Flyer Joe Urbanic and Rocket Max Ewart stood toe-to-toe delivering haymakers. It may go down as the fight of the year.

Besieged Rocket goaltender Ouellet was clearly the star of the game. Steve Griggs was a diligent worker for the Rockets while Mainella likely had his best game in a Flyer uniform. His passes were crisp and his exits from the Flyers’ defensive zone were practically flawless.

Barrett earned his first shutout of the season and the third of his Flyer career.

The Flyers have already clinched the season series. They lead the Rockets 4-0 with two games yet to be played.

With the shutout the Rockets have the lowest goals for per game of any team in the West. They only average 2.44 goals per game. No Strathroy team in team history has ever made the playoffs averaging less than 3 goals a game.

In other Western Conference action Thursday night the surging Chatham Maroons (9-4-1-1) downed the Legionnaires (7-6-1-1) in Sarnia by a 6-4 score. The win leapfrogged the Maroons into a second place tie with the idle London Nationals (8-4-3-1). Both clubs are 7 points behind the front-running Flyers and 1 point ahead of fourth place LaSalle (8-5-2-1). Sarnia remains 4 points up on the struggling seventh place Rockets.

The Rockets will host LaSalle on Saturday at the WMMC before they make their first visit of the season to St. Marys next Friday.

The Flyers will travel to the Western Fair to play London next Wednesday before hosting Chatham the following night.

David Honsberger

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