While walking out of the Pyramid Recreation Centre after the Strathroy Rockets’ 5-4 overtime loss to the last place St. Marys Lincolns, a long-time Rocket fan leans over to me and says, “Another Epic Strathroy Fail.”
Indeed it was.
The Rockets had a lot of things going for them in this game.
1. They tallied two first period goals – a monumental achievement considering they had scored just 7 first period goals in 17 games this season.
2. The Rockets scored 4 goals in the game, a far cry from their franchise record low 2.41 average per game this season. (The Rockets lowest average in team history is 2.67 goals per game. It came during an abbreviated 1971-72 season in which the club folded after a 2-15-1 start. They reappeared four seasons later as the Blades.) The Rockets have scored only 4 goals or more once in the previous 9 games.
3. The Lincolns’ starting goaltender Paul Town was ushered from the game with an injury at 15:26 of the opening period. The Lincolns were forced to bring in call-up Kyle Morning. Morning expected to be watching the game from the bench soaking in some atmosphere of a GOJHL game. Instead, he was thrust unexpectedly into the game. The 16-year-old St. Marys native was seeing his first action at this level. He tended goal last season for the Huron-Perth Lakers AAA Minor Midgets posting a 1.87 GAA in 15 games.
4. The Rockets really only had to shut down one Lincoln line. Their top unit of Graham Brulotte, Brent House and Nolan King has registered 57 scoring points heading into the contest. The rest of the team combined has only 58 scoring points. The Rockets were unable to do so.
5. For just the sixth time this season the Rockets carried a lead into the third period. The Rockets caught a huge break when Dalton Good scored with 11 seconds remaining in the second period. His shot bounced off of a Lincoln defender into the St. Marys’ net. The Rockets were 4-0-1 when leading after two periods.
6. The Rockets caught a massive break when the Lincolns’ potential tying goal was waved off with just three and a half minutes remaining in regulation time.
7. The Rockets’ powerplay has floundered so far this year, connecting just seven times. They scored two powerplay goals in the game.
The Lincolns got off to a great start when Josh Zlatinszky scored his first of the season just 98 seconds into the game when a centering pass was redirected past Dane Gubbels in the Rocket goal.
The Rockets responded with pair of markers at 7:55 and 9:56 on goals by Max Ewart and Shane Bulitka. Ewart’s backhand beat Paul Town before Bulitka tipped a shot from near the Lincoln blueline by Matt McGhee.
McGhee challenged the Lincoln defense at 15:26 on a solo rush. Trying to deke around the defenders, McGhee appeared to lock skates with the St. Marys defender and lose an edge. McGhee lost his balance and fell awkwardly into the Lincoln goaltender. Riley O’Connell scored on the play but the goal was waved off due to the goaltender interference penalty on McGhee.
Originally a minor penalty was assessed to McGhee. That was changed to a major penalty once referees Andrew Zippel and Don Yeoman discovered that Town was injured on the play and was going to be forced from the game.
Call-up Kyle Morning came on to relieve Town eventually winning his first GOJHL game.
Graham Brulotte completed the first period scoring to tie the game at 2-2 at 16:39 on the McGhee major penalty.
The Lincolns dominated the opening twenty minutes outshooting the Rockets 17-10.
O’Connell put the Rockets back on top at 3-2 at 5:37 of the second period on a nice feed from Bulitka on a Rocket powerplay. It came on a 5-on-3 when Matt Granger and Matthew Phillip incurred hooking and slashing penalties at the same stoppage of play.
Brulotte scored his second of the game on a Lincoln powerplay with Bulitka off for slashing to tie the game at 3-3 at 10:57.
The Rockets caught a huge break with 11 seconds left in the period. A shot from the high slot by Rocket defenseman Dalton Good was stopped by Morning but bounced off of a Lincoln defender’s leg and into the net to give the Rockets a 4-3 lead heading into the third period.
Second period shots favoured the Lincolns 15-13 giving them a 32-23 lead after two periods. Heading into the game the Lincolns have only outshot their opponents on two occasions. The Rockets have only outshot their opponents three times this season.
The Lincolns pressed for the tying goal in the third period and appeared to tie the game with 3:15 left in regulation time however the goal was waved off. The ruling was that the left Rocket post was off of its moorings.
With Morning on the Lincoln bench for an extra attacker, the Lincolns tied the game with 3 seconds left on the clock after a wild scramble in front of the Rocket goal. It was another tough call for the officials. They ruled that the puck had barely crossed the goal line before the Rockets cleared the puck. Ryan Martin was given credit for the goal.
Brent House sent the 300 Lincoln fans home happy when his shot from the left wing on a 3-on-2 rush beat Gubbels at 3:42 of the first overtime period. The Lincoln rush started from deep in their own zone after the Lincolns quickly moved the puck after a blind pass by Max Ewart in front of the Lincoln goal. House entered the game with more goals (11) than any Rocket had in points.
Third period shots were 13-11 for Strathroy. St. Marys held a 4-3 advantage in the abbreviated overtime. Final shots were 47-39 for the Lincolns. The Rockets lead all GOJHL teams with seven overtime matches, winning one, losing four and tying two.
St. Marys went 2 for 5 on the powerplay while the Rockets were 1 for 6. Despite their lowly position in the standings, the Lincolns entered the game with the 14th ranked powerplay in the GOJHL. The Rockets’ is second worst (25th).
Sudbury Wolves draft pick Bulitka finished with a goal and two assists for a 3-point night. It is only the third three-point performance in a game by any Rocket this season. Kieran Milne and Turner Balasin have the others.
The Lincolns snapped their 10-game winless streak while the Rockets extended theirs to 10 games.
The Rockets will have another opportunity to snap their winless streak the following night when they host London at the WMMC. The Lincolns have a busy week ahead of them travelling to Leamington on Thursday before hosting Chatham on Friday and St. Thomas on Sunday.
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 and provides the colour commentary for the Strathroy Rockets radio broadcasts on 105.7 my FM. He resides in Strathroy with his mother and his two cherished Savannah cats, Scout and Hey, Boo.