As the final seconds ticked away in the Strathroy Rockets’ 6-4 loss to the visiting London Nationals, the Frank Zappa song “The Torture Never Stops” from his 1976 album “Zoot Allures” kept playing in my head.
Well the torture will eventually end for the Strathroy Rockets, but not on this particular night. The Rockets suffered their second consecutive loss in two nights, despite carrying a lead into the third period, extending the Rockets winless streak to 11 games – their longest period of ineptitude in the past 21 years.
It hasn’t happened without a high level of effort. That is quite evident from the Rockets’ performance on the ice. With only 5 returning skaters, a new coaching and management staff, a new president and a slew of new board members, the organization has been revitalized and is brimming with enthusiasm and excitement. It just hasn’t transpired to wins on the ice. Not yet. It will. As the old sage once said, “It’s not how you begin the race, it’s how you finish it.”
Despite the 11-game winless streak the Rockets have picked up five valuable points. One game ended in a double overtime draw (LaSalle 2-2) and the Rockets have also earned four additional points from overtime losses. Without the six points earned from 2 ties and 4 overtime losses this season the Rockets would find themselves in last place. They sit precariously in seventh place, one point up on eighth place Lambton Shores (5-13-0-2) and five above the diligent St. Marys Lincolns (3-12-1-2)
It was the second win of the season by the Nationals over the Rockets. London nipped the Rockets 3-2 on October 17.
Poor starts continue to plague the Rockets. Effervescent John Warren scored the only goal of the first period giving London a 1-0 lead. The goal came at 9:06 beating Mat Ouellet with a wicked wrist shot. London held a 10-8 shot advantage in the first period. Ouellet was honoured prior to the game as the Poag Jewelers Player of the Month for October.
Rocket rookie defenseman and London Knight draft pick Jeff Clarke was sent to the showers at 15:31 for a check from behind call dropping the Rockets to five defensemen.
When Scott Dorion gave the Nats a 2-0 lead at 5:12 of the second period it appeared as if the Nats were off and running against the struggling Rockets.
It was then that the Nationals fell into some bad habits. They stopped sharing the puck. Instead players decided they could carry the puck through the entire Rocket team. They were greedy and on several occasions were guilty of passing up a shot on goal to make one extra move.
The Rockets took advantage aided by some selfish London penalties.
Rocket scoring leader Riley O’Connell fired his first of two powerplay goals in the period past a helpless Zack Weir at 7:47 on a 5-on-3 opportunity.
At 9:22 Codey McRoberts slid in a rebound past Weir after a great rush down the left wing by callup Tristan Sedlak.
With Nationals Alex Cimino and Callum Ruddock off for tripping penalties Lucas Latina erased a 1:58 two-man Rocket advantage when he took a needless tripping penalty three seconds later.
On the resulting 4-on-3 advantage, O’Connell, who likely possesses the best wrist shot in the Conference, notched his second powerplay goal of the period at 12:59. It was O’Connell’s third 2-goal performance of the season.
The three straight goals suddenly and unexpectedly gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead. The 354 fans at the WMMC were rocking the joint in wild expectations of the Rockets snapping their winless streak.
Instead something else snapped. It was London head coach Pat Powers. The bench boss called a time out. One didn’t have to be near the National bench to listen in on the conversation. He lambasted his squad. The Strathroy-Caradoc Recreation Department may have to repaint the area behind the National bench. He peeled the paint. I’ve personally never heard a coach read the riot act to a team so vehemently on a time out.
The Nats started to play more like a team instead of a group of individual superstars as they spent the rest of the period trying to resurrect their mojo. They did beat Ouellet twice but solidly rang the puck off the goal posts foreshadowing the events that were about to transpire in the third period.
The Rockets outshot the Nats 26-14 in the middle frame, their most shots in a single period this season.
The effect of the tongue-lashing, which was likely continued during the second period intermission, saw immediate results early in the third period. Captain Kyle Robinson rallied his troops and tied the contest at 3-3 just 53 seconds into the third period.
The onslaught continued until Austin Kemp regained the London lead at 8:18.
Robinson added his second of the period just 44 seconds later and the Nats were up 5-3. The goal would stand up to be the game winner.
Just 24 seconds later tempers flared when Rocket captain Matt Laberge and National Dorion were ushered off for a spirited bout behind the Rocket net. Laberge’s loss left Rocket defensive coach Jason Furlong with only four rearguards for the remainder of the game.
Ouellet was abandoned in the Rocket goal as the Nats fired 23 shots his way in the third period. Weir only had to face 11. After the Rockets registered their most shots in a single period this season, they allowed the most against in a period. London outshot Strathroy 47-45 over the sixty minutes. The Rockets have only outshot their opponents on three occasions this season. They won all three of those contests.
Just when it appeared that the Nationals were going to coast to victory, Welsey Kelly was sprung with a breakaway pass up the middle from defenseman Evan Hogg to cut the London lead to 5-4 at 14:46.
When Ruddock was sent off the ice for an unfortunate high sticking penalty at 16:22, the Rockets were handed a great opportunity to tie the match.
The Rockets never threatened on the resulting powerplay and when they pulled Ouellet for an extra attacker in the final minute, Robertson scored his third goal of the period into an empty net to secure the London win.
The victory extended the National (11-4-3-1) winning streak to five games. They remain in second place moving two points ahead of Chatham (10-5-1-1), St. Thomas (10-6-1-1) and LaSalle (9-6-3-1) and three points below front-running Leamington (14-3-1-0).
O’Connell finished the night with 13 shots on goal. Defenseman Noah Tooke, who rarely misses the net with a shot, fired 6 shots at Weir. London dominated in the faceoff circle winning 57 of 100 draws (57%). The only Rocket centre who won more faceoffs than he lost was Steve Griggs (14 of 26). The Rockets were 2 for 6 with the man advantage. London were unsuccessful in four attempts.
The Rockets will make their first visit of the season to St. Thomas on Friday before hosting Sarnia on Saturday.
London will welcome St. Thomas on Remembrance Day and travel to Chatham on Sunday.
When will the Rocket torture stop? Perhaps the Timkin Centre will bring happier results on Friday. The youthful Rockets have been close, very close.
“Flies all green ‘n buzzin’ in his dungeon of despair
Prisoners grumble and piss their clothes and scratch their matted hair
A tiny light from a window hole a hundred yards away
Is all they ever get to know about the regular life in the day;
An’ it stinks so bad the stones been chokin’
‘N weepin’ greenish drops
In the room where the giant fire puffer works
‘N the torture never stops
The torture never stops”
– Frank Zappa
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.