SNATCHING DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY – AGAIN
For the third straight game the Strathroy Rockets saw a lead disappear as they fell to the St. Thomas Stars at the Timkin Centre in front of 526 fans in St. Thomas by a 7-2 score. The Stars were paced by two-goal efforts from Ryan Valentini, Carson Brookshaw and Andrew Chambers.
The Rockets saw third period leads evaporate to the London Nationals (11-5-3-1) and the St. Marys Lincolns (4-13-1-2) in their two previous games.
The loss, which extended the sputtering Rockets’ winless streak to an even dozen games, lowered the Rockets’ record to 4-10-2-4. They remain in seventh place in the nine-team Western Conference of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, two points ahead of the Lambton Shores Predators (5-14-1-2) and three points ahead of the last place St. Marys Lincolns (4-10-2-4). The Lincolns, winners of two of their last three games. knocked off the Chatham Maroons (11-6-6-1) by a 5-3 score in the only other Western Conference matchup on Friday night.
Only the last place club fails to make the playoffs.
Even the eerie spell of Friday the 13 couldn’t weave a magical potion over the Rockets. The 12-game skid is the club’s worst in the past 21 years.
For 25 minutes the Rockets put up a valiant fight. The two teams skated through a scoreless opening period in which the Rockets outshot the Stars 13-11. The Stars, just like the London Nationals last Saturday at the WMMC in Strathroy, were guilty of selfish plays. Time and time again players would attempt to skate through the entire team refusing to share the puck with their teammates.
After the first intermission, the Stars adjusted their game, started to play together as a team, and the Rockets were doomed.
The adjustment didn’t come without a scare to the Stars. Rocket defenseman Noah Tooke saw his shot from the halfboards find its way through sticks and skates, catching the back corner of the net behind goaltender Dan Black to give the Rockets a well-earned 1-0 lead at 1:54 of the middle frame.
The Rockets continued to carry the play to the Stars and appeared as if their winless streak may come to an end.
The Stars exploded for three goals by Valentini, Chambers and Adam Truax over a 2:26 span to suddenly take a 3-1 lead. Less than three minutes later Brookshaw, who sits second in Western Conference scoring, made the score 4-1.
After such a promising start the wheels fell off the Rocket wagon very quickly. The Stars outshot the Rockets 23-11 in the period. Rocket goaltender Dane Gubbels received little help from his teammates and was left at the mercy of the Stars’ sharpshooters.
Gubbels goaltending partner Mat Ouellet (ill) was not dressed for the game. Backing up Gubbels was Elgin-Middlesex Chief Lucas Bain.
Steve Griggs (school), Nick Griffin, who was mysteriously absent again, and Matt McGhee were also scratches from the Rocket lineup. Griffin was missing his third consecutive game. McGhee has decided to leave the team and concentrate on working on a golf scholarship and studying for his SATs.
At the time of his departure McGhee was fourth in Rocket scoring. Griffin’s absence is critical for the Rockets. He is the Rockets’ top penalty killer, fastest skater, most diligent worker and despite the numbers listed on Pointstreak actually leads the team in scoring.
A new addition to the Rockets’ lineup was Jeff Williams. The Walpole Island native was playing for the Welland Junior Canadians and had played for the Mooretown Flags last season. He fit in well at left wing on the Rockets’ top unit with Lucas Latina and Wes Kelly making several nice plays and chipping in with two shots on goal.
Just 38 seconds into the final period any thought of a Rocket third period comeback was quickly squashed when Chambers banged in his second of the night.
Rocket Kieran Milne tipped a Riley O’Connell wrist shot on a Rocket powerplay to make the score 5-3, but Brookshaw and Valentini both with their second of the night put the score well out of reach for the disillusioned and demoralized Rockets. Valentini’s marker came on a Stars powerplay.
The Stars have the most disciplined and least penalized team in the GOJHL.
The Stars led 12-8 in third period shots and 46-32 over the sixty minutes.
The Rockets were 1 for 1 on the powerplay, while the Stars went 1 for 3.
The Stars heavily dominated the Rockets in the faceoff circle winning 71.8% of the draws.
Rockets underager Shane Bulitka had another strong outing leading the Rockets in shots on goal with 6.
The Rockets will have little time to lick their wounds, as they will host the Sarnia Legionnaires (9-8-1-2) the following night at the WMMC. Game time is 7:30pm. Sarnia, who has struggled with consistency this season, leads the Rockets by 7 points heading into the game.
The Stars, who had down London on Wednesday, will be looking for six points this week as they head to St. Marys on Sunday to play the Lincolns.
(photo credit – Colleen Wiendals Photography)
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.