STARS SMOTHER ROCKETS
The St. Thomas Stars put a blanket over the visiting Strathroy Rockets at the Timken Community Centre on Sunday, December 6, 2015. Highlighted by a natural hat trick by Western Conference Offensive Player of the Month for November Matt McJannet, and a shutout performance by Nik Dampier in goal the Stars cruised past the Rockets 4-0.
The win moved the Stars (18-7-1-1) into sole possession of second place, 3 points below front-running Leamington (20-4-1-0) and two points ahead of third place Chatham (17-8-1-1). The Rockets (7-15-2-4) remain mired in seventh place, 10 points below sixth place Sarnia (13-10-1-1) and seven points up on eighth place St. Marys (5-20-1-2). The Rockets and the Lincolns or Lambton Shores Predators will likely become cannon fodder for the top two ranked clubs come playoff time. If the standings remain as they are now, the Stars and the Rockets would meet in the opening round.
In all honesty the Rockets were never in this game. Despite the fact that the Stars had a narrow 1-0 lead after one period and just a 2-0 lead after forty minutes, the Rockets really never got close enough to have a sniff. Mercifully, it was the Rockets third and final visit to St. Thomas for the season.
Special teams highlighted the huge difference in talent between the two clubs. Both teams had three powerplay opportunities. The Stars, with the fourth best powerplay in the GOJHL, clicked on two of them while obviously the Rockets, with the second worst powerplay in the GOJHL, were held off the score sheet. The Rockets generated just a single powerplay shot on goal. The Stars had eight; however St. Thomas converted their first two powerplays on just 4 shots. The Stars are 7 for 13 or 53.8% on the powerplay this season against the Rockets. With the win the Stars have clinched the season series winning all four meetings with two games yet to be played.
The Rockets’ powerplay was quite atrocious. They were completely disorganized looking like they were skating east looking for a sunset.
The Stars outshot the Rockets 49-28. The Rockets did hold a 37-31 advantage in the faceoff circle. Call-up Tristan Sedlak was tops for the Rockets winning 11 and only losing 4 draws (73.3%). No Rocket had more than three shots on goal in the game (Lucas Latina, Steve Griggs and defenseman Dante Copps).
The only bright spot for the Rockets was the debut of goaltender Dan Davies. Davies joined the club from Iroquois Falls in the NOJHL. He displayed a rapier quick glove hand and excellent rebound control. If not for his stellar night, the score would have been much higher.
The Rockets missed a golden opportunity as the Stars were without two of their finest players, Ryan Valentini and Eric Henderson. Henderson was up with the OHL London Knights while Valentini was rumoured to have been traded by the Knights to the Sudbury Wolves. The Rockets were also without their most skilled player, Shane Bulitka, who was also up with the OHL Wolves.
James Newland scored the only goal of the first period with an excellent back door shot on a Stars’ powerplay with Rocket T.J. Harris sent to the showers for a check from behind at 12:30. First period shots were 16-10 for the Stars.
McJannet got his first of three on the night when he banked the puck off of Davies from behind the goal with Rocket captain Matt Laberge off for high sticking at 14:05 of the second period. The Stars doubled up the Rockets in shots in the second period 16-8.
The Rocket sails were completely deflated at 1:52 of the third period when Spencer Hutchinson intercepted a poor pass from Rocket defenseman Evan Hogg in the Rocket defensive zone. Hutchinson fed McJannet the puck. The end came quick. Carson Brookshaw was given a phantom assist on the play. Looks like the refs were asleep too.
Hogg and his defensive partner Jeff Clarke, along with forwards Kieran Milne and Nick Griffin had rough nights. They were on the ice for 3 of the Stars’ 4 goals.
McJannet completed his natural hat trick at 9:47 with the prettiest play of the night. He finished off a textbook perfect three-on-two rush with Brookshaw and Hutchinson. The Rockets were caught on a horrendous line change.
The Rockets hardly put up a whimper for the rest of the game. The same could not be said for diligent worker Wes Kelly. The hard-nosed Rocket winger battled to the final buzzer. He constantly pressed the Stars, finished his checks and made things as uncomfortable as possible for the Stars. Third period shots favoured the Stars 17-10.
Call up Kyle Dawson for the Stars had an impressive outing. He is a fast, agile skater, who displayed good puck sense, read and developed plays well and showed remarkable hand and eye coordination. He was a solid asset to the Stars’ attack. Dawson is the nephew of former Rocket trainer, coach and general manager Chad Dawson.
Star goaltender Dampier was never tested throughout the game. It was a rather routine shutout.
It was the Stars ninth win in ten games.
Next up for the Stars is a visit from the fifth place LaSalle Vipers (14-9-3-1) on Friday before heading to Strathroy on Saturday to resume their season series with the Rockets.
(photo credit – Colleen Wiendels 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.