LAMBTON SHORES PREDATORS TIE THE ST. MARYS LINCOLNS FOR THE FINAL PLAYOFF SPOT

PREDS TIE LINCS FOR FINAL PLAYOFF SPOT

The Lambton Shores Predators moved into an eighth place tie with the St. Marys Lincolns by virtue of an overtime loss and a double overtime tie with the Strathroy Rockets. The Rockets and the Preds played a home-and-home series on Saturday, January 9 at the WMMC in Strathroy and the following night at the Shores Recreation Centre in Forest.

The Rockets escaped Saturday with a wild 6-5 overtime win while the two clubs battled to a 3-3 deadlock on Sunday.

Both the Predators and the Lincolns have identical 6-25-1-3 records. Both clubs trail the 10-15-3-7 Rockets by 14 points. Strathroy has now narrowed the sixth place 16-13-1-3 Sarnia Legionnaires’ lead to 6 points over the Rockets.

Overtime, overtime and more overtime.

By now you would think that the Strathroy Rockets have overtime all figured out. But they do not.

Including the two weekend games with the Predators the Rockets have played 13 overtime games, including the last six in a row – a franchise record.

Extra time wins have been hard to come by for the Rockets. They have converted just three of the overtime games into wins, two against Lambton Shores and one against St. Marys. Nine of the Rockets’ 13 overtime games have advanced into double overtime.

The Rockets have played so much extra time this year that they will finish the 50-game season by playing over 51 games.

On the positive side the 13 overtime games represent how close the Rockets are to converting overtime losses and ties into wins and moving significantly up the standings. The results will not be seen this year unless they can sneak past Sarnia. The experience they have learned through the extra time is priceless.

The Rockets’ reluctance to trade away any of their young talent at the trading deadline was a wise choice. They have a great core of players. They have just two 20-year-olds in captain Matt Laberge and forward Kieran Milne that will not be eligible to return next season. The 16 rookies they have in the line up will no longer be rookies next season. The chemistry is clearly good. The future looks strong for the Rockets.

The Lambton Shores Predators should be commended for their gutsy efforts in picking up two difficult points and moving into a tie for the final playoff spot with St. Marys. The Preds have been a bit of a mystery. This is the ninth season since the franchise moved over from Petrolia. In the last 8 years they have finished in last place four times and squeezed into eighth place four times. They will suffer a similar fate this year with an eighth or ninth place finish.

The team is located in an awkward location in a small town with a limited fan base. They compete primarily with Sarnia for Lambton County players. They do play in a lovely facility with the most helpful and polite arena staff I have ever witnessed. We hope that the new import rules will assist them in signing more high profile players and less Sarnia Legionnaire cast-offs.

It is credit to the Pred’s coaching staff and to the players in keeping a positive attitude in difficult situations. The club is often forced to sell off their premiere players to the highest bidder to pay the bills. This year hard-nosed defenseman Ryan Fraser was sent to Chatham while prolific Brenden Trottier was dealt to London. Hanging over the players’ heads this weekend was the possibility that GOJHL Western Conference scoring leader Ethan Sarfati and/or blue chip defensive prospect Franco Sporviero could be moved. Neither was. Wise decision. I wouldn’t trade them either.

The Preds had to battle back from a 4-1 deficit in Strathroy and 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in Forest to earn the two points. A very tough road for a club that has won just one game in their previous 17 contests particularly in Forest when Sarfati and Rocket goal scoring leader Lucas Latina were both ejected from the contest just 6:34 into the game.

Sarfati put on a clinic in Strathroy. He tallied 3 goals and added an assist. I have seen a lot of talented players in my 20 years watching this Western Junior B loop, but I can’t recall such a skilled and dominating performance by one player in a game. He was golden. The Shores Rec Centre should be full every night to watch this talent. He is spectacular.

The 56 shots that the Rockets poured on Keegan Paulette and Anthony Hurtubise on Saturday were the most by the Rockets in a single game this season. All six Rocket goals came while the two teams were playing at even strength, the most in a single game by the Rockets this season.

The needed a goal by Max Ewart with 2:53 remaining in regulation time for force overtime. A clever play by Latina and defenseman Dalton Good resulted in Good’s OT winner.

Rocket underage rookie Shane Bulitka had another superb night with 2 goals and an assist.

After Sunday’s game Bulitka had extended his point streak to 5 games, the most by a Rocket this season. Bulitka has 5 goals and 6 assists for 11 points during the 5-game stretch.

In Sunday’s winter storm match Marcel Berube completed the Predator comeback by 16:42 of the second period tying the game at 3-3. The two clubs then skated through 33:18 of scoreless hockey until the final buzzer.

It was the tenth time this season that the Rockets have had to play games on back-to-back nights. They have won just one game on the second night.

The Rockets outshot the Preds 50-29 in game two. Lambton Shores netminder Paulette redeemed himself with a stellar performance. The move displayed a lot of confidence in the goaltender after getting pulled the previous night allowing 3 Rocket goals in 1:45.

At the opposite end Dan Davies, who came in relief of Dane Gubbels on Saturday night after the Predators had erased a 4-1 deficit also played very well. He made two spectacular back-to-back saves in double overtime to preserve the tie.

Rocket defenseman Noah Tooke was a force to be reckoned with. He led the Rockets at both ends of the ice. His defensive work was stellar and he led countless rushes up the ice. Easily possessing the most accurate shot on the team, Noah seldom misses the net with a shot attempt. Noah finished the night with 11 shots on goal. I’ve have charted stats for this club for 20 years and cannot remember a defenseman that ever registered 11 shots on goal in a game.

At one time 10 shots on goal in a single game was the franchise record. Stanley Cup champion Jeff Carter was the first Rocket player to register 10 shots on a goal in a game. He accomplished the feat as a 15-year-old rookie during the 2000-01 season with Hall of Famer Bobby Orr in the building who came to watch him play.

Both teams went 1 for 5 on the powerplay.  The big difference was that the Rockets manufactured 13 powerplay shots on goal while the Predators had just 3.

The Rockets now lead the season series 3-0 along with a tie game.  Two of the Rocket wins came in overtime.  All three Rocket wins were by a single goal.

Both clubs will be idle until Saturday, January 16. The Rockets will host Sarnia while the Predators will welcome Chatham.

(photo credit – David Honsberger)

(audio credit in Forest – Chris Soares, 105.7 myFM)

David Honsberger

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