The Strathroy Rockets’ (4-8-2-3) misery lessened somewhat after a hard-fought 2-2 double overtime stalemate with the visiting LaSalle Vipers (8-5-3-1) on Hallowe’en night at the West Middlesex Memorial Centre in Strathroy in Western Conference action in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The Vipers outshot the Rockets 54-46 over the seventy minutes.
The tie snapped an 8-game Rocket losing streak, their longest futility skid in 21 years, but extended the Rockets’ winless streak to nine games. The Rockets finished the month with a 1-5-3-1 record. They have not won since October 3 against the last place St. Marys Lincolns (2-11-1-2). The Rockets’ next match will in St. Marys on November 6.
It was a very exciting contest in which the two teams were tied 1-1 after one period and saw the Rockets carry a 2-1 lead into the third period. A third period marker by Viper Manny Silverio at 8:37 forced the overtime.
For a while it looked as if the Rockets may actually outshoot the Vipers. The two clubs were tied 28-28 going into the third period. The Rockets have outshot their opponent only 3 times this season in 17 games. They won all three of those games.
The Vipers dominated the overtime outshooting the Rockets 11-7 including a 9-4 advantage in the thrilling double overtime.
With the seconds ticking down in the second overtime period the Rocket net was dislodged by Kieran Milne just as the Vipers were about to score. The Vipers protested strongly that the game was delayed purposely and they deserved a penalty shot. Referees Clint Campbell and Kyle Mellor did not agree.
The Rockets’ best chance in the overtime came when Riley O’Connell slipped in behind the Viper defense. Goaltender Paolo Battisti came up with a monstrous save on O’Connell’s deke.
O’Connell was dangerous all night. He registered 10 shots on goal.
The Rockets learned quickly to keep the puck away from the big goaltender on the powerplay. Battisti helped his own cause by icing the puck twice on the same Viper penalty kill.
Rocket goaltender Mat Ouellet was again the best player on the ice turning aside 52 of 54 shots. It is the most shots against the Rockets have allowed this season. Without Ouellet’s effort the game could have easily turned into a rout.
The Vipers got on the scoreboard first at 8:16 of the opening period. They play came seconds after Rocket Nick Griffin rattled a shot off the Viper crossbar. Liam MacDougall beat Rocket defender Matt Clarke in the neutral zone, raced in from the right wing and beat Ouellet with a quick shot.
The Rockets answered just 13 seconds later when rookie Max Ewart got around Matt Doucette and fired a shot from the right side just up and under the crossbar to the game at 1-1. It was only the seventh first period goal the Rockets have scored this season.
The Rockets took a 2-1 second period lead at 6:52 when Wesley Kelly’s wrist shot from the left side on a two-on-one opportunity with Milne beat Battisti.
Twenty-two minutes later Silverio beat the Rocket defense to a loose puck in front of Ouellet to force the overtime.
The Rockets won 53 of the 97 faceoffs in the game (54.6%).
The Rockets played a much sounder and patient defensive game against the Vipers. LaSalle played their trademark periphery game. They kept the puck to the outside, constantly cycling and passing around the outside fringes of the Rocket defensive zone trying to force the young Rockets to over commit. For the most part, the Rockets did not take the bait.
Newcomer Chris Corgan looked much more comfortable in a Rocket sweater. Acquired on waivers from the Thorold Black Hawks, Corgan centered the Rockets fourth line with T.J. Harris and Matthew Stevens. He was particularly sharp on his draws winning 5 of 7 faceoffs.
Scratches for the Rockets were Turner Balasin and Shane Bulitka. Eric Kirby, captain Nathan Veres and Nolan Gardiner were not dressed for the Vipers. Veres, the only returning defenseman on the club, has been injured since the second game of the season.
After the weekend action, the Vipers sit in a tie for fourth place with the St. Thomas Stars (9-5-1-1). Both teams are two points below the Chatham Maroons (10-4-1-1) and the London Nationals (9-4-3-1).
The Rockets remain in seventh place, three points up on the Lambton Shores Predators (4-11-0-2) and three points below the Sarnia Legionnaires (7-7-1-1).
The Rockets will travel to St. Marys for their first visit of the year in Stonetown on Friday before hosting London on Saturday. The Vipers will play three games next week, heading to Forest to play the Predators on Tuesday before hosting St. Thomas on Wednesday and visiting the Chatham Maroons on Sunday at Memorial Arena.
David Honsberger is a former journalist and columnist for the Strathroy Age Dispatch. A winner of the Stuart Bolton Memorial Award for the Strathroy Rockets Volunteer of the Year in 1996, David served for seven years as the club’s president. He was honoured in 2015 when he was inducted into the Strathroy Rockets/Blades Wall of Fame in the builder category. David is currently in his 20th year of volunteering with the Rockets. David provides the colour commentary on the Rockets’ radio broadcasts on 105.7 myFM. He resides in Strathroy with his mother and his two cherished Savannah cats, Scout and Hey, Boo. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.