The biggest selling novel of all time begins:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)

Well in the annals of Junior hockey the battles between Sarnia and Strathroy are often of epic proportion. The rivalry is intense on the ice and usually spills into the stands for some good natured fun.

We present for you a tale of two reporters, one from Sarnia and the other from Strathroy for their thoughts and views on the Legionnaires’ 3-1 win over the Rockets at the West Middlesex Memorial Centre in Strathroy on Saturday, November 14, 2015.

By Dan McCaffery, Special to The Sarnia Observer

STRATHROY – Some courageous shot blocking here Saturday helped the Sarnia Legionnaires to a 3-1 win over the Strathroy Rockets.

Several Legionnaires threw their bodies fearlessly in front of blistering drives to keep the Rockets at bay.

“The guys were getting into the shooting lanes,” Sarnia head coach Mark Davis said afterward.

“It takes guts to do that because there are guys in this league that can really shoot. Jarret Marks made a great block. He’s a real warrior, a kid you’d want to go to war with.”

Legionnaire Zach Vanderwal, who opened the scoring in the first period, said, “you’ve gotta do that (block shots). Sometimes you’ve got to make the sacrifice.”

Vanderwal got his third of the campaign after popping in a rebound while standing in the faceoff circle. “I passed back to the point and went toward the net,” he recalled. I just swatted at it and it went it.”

He added, “It was a really good game. The team was flying.”

Strathroy went into the contest winless in a dozen games, but Vanderwal said it would have been a mistake to underestimate them. “You can lose to any team in this league. You’ve got to come prepared every night.”

In the third period, with the score deadlocked 1-1, Ryan Vendramin came out from the corner, cut in front and rifled a wrist shot behind Rockets netman Dane Gubbels.

Brandon Layman closed out the scoring with a bullet drive from the point.

After that, the Legionnaires shut the door, thanks to some great penalty killing. In fact, the visitors were perfect all night while playing down a man, escaping no less than 10 shorthanded situations. Shot blocking played no small part in their success, with Brock Perry and Hunter Tyczynski shining in that department.

When the Rockets did find the net, goalie Aidan Hughes stood his ground, gobbling up pucks and allowing few rebounds.

“Our goaltender played well,” Davis said. “All the guys stepped up.”

The Legionnaires are now 10-8-1-1, which leaves them in sixth place in the tight Western Ontario Hockey Conference standings.

Sarnia returns to action next Thursday when it hosts the London Nationals. Game time at the Brock Street barn is set for 7:10 p.m.


In Dickens’ words it certainly has become “the worst of times” for the Strathroy Rockets and their supporters. In fact, it is not. There have been other periods of suffering which have easily eclipsed the little bump in the road that the Rockets are experiencing now.

My first thought was the 1971-72 season when the original Rockets folded part way through the season after winning just 2 games in their first 18 (2-15-1).

Returning as the Blades in 1975-76 was no picnic either. That club took their bumps winning only 4 games all season (4-30-6).

The 1992-93 Blades fell on hard times with a long 4-45-0-3 season.

The first season of the reborn Rockets in 1994-95 was a long one too. They lost their first 26 games of the season before ending up with a 8-37-0-4 record, and that was with future Stanley Cup Champion Andy McDonald (Anaheim Ducks) in the line-up.  Thanks to McDonald’s double overtime goal the following year they upset the first place Aylmer Aces in the opening round of the playoffs.  A year later they captured the league title.

In fact, Strathroy fans are a long and suffering breed. The Strathroy franchise has the worst career numbers of all teams in the Western Conference and was the laughing stock of the league for many seasons. It is a credit to the many hard-working volunteers who have kept this team afloat since its inception in 1965.

Although the elusive Sutherland Cup has eluded their grasp on three trips to the Provincial finals in 1969, 1996 and 2006, their success has not been measured in championships. It can only be measured by players, volunteers and staff moving on to a higher level. Not many clubs can match Strathroy’s success on that level.

The Rockets current predicament is a 13-game winless streak, their longest period without a win in 21 years. They can’t be faulted for effort. They battle hard, but simply on most nights, so far, have not been the best team on the ice. Goaltending is not an issue, Dane Gubbels and Mat Ouellet have been saviors for the Rockets keeping the score to a respectable range on most nights.

Their biggest problem has been scoring goals. They have just 52 in 21 games, averaging 2.48 goals a game. No Strathroy team in franchise history has made the playoffs averaging less than 3 goals a game. Fortunately for the Rockets the Lambton Shores Predators and the St. Marys Lincolns have struggled too. They are breathing down the Rockets’ neck and could easily overtake them in standings before the season is over.

This match with Sarnia was a prime example. It was likely the most physical game of the year for the Rockets, much to the delight of the 303 spectators, many of which who were from Sarnia.

The Rockets matched and often exceeded the Legionnaire’s intensity. In fact, they outworked the Legionnaires throughout most of the game. They were handed plenty of opportunities to score, including 9 powerplay chances, including a lengthy 5-on-3 for 1:47.

A combination of solid Sarnia penalty killing and a reluctance to shoot the puck when a good opportunity presented itself killed the Rockets’ chances. The Legionnaires were very patient penalty killers. They remained in their box, eliminated shooting lanes, blocked shots and most importantly, refused to over commit.

The Rockets spent most of the evening trying to setup left winger sniper Riley O’Connell and his deadly wrist shot, ignoring the other side of the ice completely. One of the Rockets’ greatest weapons is their captain Matt Laberge. Time and time again he was maneuvered into a perfect shooting position on the point, but instead passed the puck over to the sideboards to O’Connell. You can’t score if you don’t shoot the puck and Laberge has a hard, low, accurate shot that is rarely blocked.  Laberge had just a single shot on goal in the contest.  He could of had several more.

After O’Connell scored a pair of goals with his laser shot in their first meeting of the year in Sarnia, Legionnaires’ head coach Mark Davis was quoted saying that they would have to give O’Connell some special attention and eliminate that shot in the future. Despite O’Connell’s 8 shots on goal in the game, they did a fine job containing the Rockets’ most dangerous offensive player.

The Rockets failed to score on any of their powerplay chances while Sarnia clicked on 2 of 7 chances. Sarnia was guilty too of trying to move the puck around the one side of the ice too much in an attempt to hit a pinching defenseman from the point with a pass. They wasted several minutes of powerplay time and failed to orchestrate the play. Instead Ryan Vendramin walked out from the corner faking a pass back to the point and ripped a shot over Dane Gubbels and Brandon Layman tallied the other powerplay goal with a drive from the centre point.

The Rockets finished the night with 13 powerplay shots on goal. Sarnia had eleven.

After each team scored once in the first period, Legionnaire Jordan Fogarty nearly broke the tie in the final moments of the second period on a Sarnia powerplay when his shot from the slot rattled loudly off the post.

With Sarnia leading 2-1 in the third period, the Rockets’ best chance to tie the game, and Sarnia netminder Aiden Hughes’ best stop of the night, came when the two teams were playing 4-on-4.  T.J. Harris was sprung with a breakway pass but Hughes came up with a dynamite glove save.  Moments later Layman scored to make the score 3-1 and Sarnia coasted to the victory.

Sarnia dominated in the faceoff circle winning 37 of 50 draws for a 57.5% proficiency. Lucas Latina was the only Rocket centre with a winning percentage winning 18 of 28 faceoffs (64.3%).
Latina, who leads the GOJHL in penalty minutes, had another tough night drawing four minor penalties.

It was an odd night for penalties. Both clubs had double minors for high sticking – Latina for the Rockets and Fogarty for the Legionnaires. As well, both teams incurred a minor penalty for a player leaving the bench without permission at the end of a period – Sarnia’s Eric Marsh and Strathroy’s Evan Hogg.

Rocket newcomer Jeff Williams continues to impress. He is an aggressive forechecker and backchecker who battles hard for the puck in all three zones. He fit in well on a line with skilled forwards O’Connell and Shane Bulitka. Williams helps to compensate for O’Connell’s poor skating and Bulitka scored the Rockets only goal with a nice shot from the right wing that beat Sarnia netminder Hughes, who had a steady but unspectacular night. Hughes was very effective staying square to the shooter and offered up very little in the way of rebounds, a very effective combination against an offensively-challenged squad like the Rockets.

The Rockets have a busy week ahead of them as they travel to London on Wednesday and St. Thomas on Thursday before hosting Chatham on Saturday at the WMMC. The Nationals and Stars have been hot and are tied for second place while the Maroons have struggled lately dropping their last 3 games.  The Rockets are 0-4-1 against the Nationals, Stars and Maroons his season.

Let’s finish this post with a few more words from Dickens and “A Tale for Two Cities.”

“It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

And for the Strathroy Rockets they can only look ahead to that next win, wherever and whenever it may come.

(photo credit – Colleen Wiendels Photography)

David Honsberger

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