LONDON NATIONALS MAUL STRATHROY ROCKETS

NATIONALS MAUL ROCKETS

It wasn’t a pretty sight for Strathroy Rocket fans.

The London Nationals were in complete control of an embarrassing 7-1 drubbing over the Strathroy Rockets at the Western Fair Community Centre in London on Wednesday, January 20 in Western Conference action of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League in front of a good crowd of 667 fans.

The win was very important one for the Nats.  Just three days before the Chatham Maroons rolled over the Rockets by a 6-2 score moving the Maroons into sole possession of second place. The two points picked up by the Nationals leap-frogged them past the Maroons back into control of second place for the moment.

The reward for finishing in second place – a first round matchup with the seventh place Rockets and the potential of a quick and easy quarter-final series. The second seed would then secure themselves home ice in the semi-finals against a very tough opponent. It could very well be the deciding factor in making it to the finals in a seven-game series against likely front-running Leamington.

A big lesson from last year is just making it to the playoffs. The fourth place LaSalle Vipers made it to the finals before bowing out to two-time champion Leamington. They then gained entry into the Sutherland Cup playoffs as the wild card, eventually losing in six games to the back-to-back champs, the Caledonia Pro-Fit Corvairs.

Following Wednesday night’s game, Rocket head coach Brendan Riggin didn’t mince his words. “We were terrible.”

There are many things in this game you can control, and some you can’t. In the Rockets’ case they know that on most nights they are not going to have the most talented team on the ice. They have 16 rookies. The year has been a huge learning curve for them.

The one thing they can control every game is the effort and work ethic that they put into every shift. It wasn’t there at the Western Fair on this night. Not even close.

I’m not saying every Rocket player pitched in the tent, but there were not many warriors battling until the final whistle. That is unacceptable. The main reason for their position in the standings has been their work ethic. They haven’t been outworked on many games this season.

They trailed 2-1 after a first period in which they were outshot 16-6. The Nationals had built their lead to 5-1 after 40 minutes. Rocket starter Dan Davies was pulled after he allowed 2 of the first 3 shots he faced in the second period to get past him. It was an effort to change the momentum, it certainly wasn’t intended as a reflection of Davies’ goaltending abilities. The Rockets were outshot 18-5 in the middle frame.

Although the Rockets rallied for a better effort in the third period outshooting the Nationals 14-7, it was London that scored a pair of goals.

Special teams once again killed the Rockets. London went 3 for 7 with the man advantage on 8 shots while the Rockets failed to convert on any of their 4 chances on 9 shots.

Riggin began juggling the lines. He flipped wingers T.J. Harris and Nick Griffin. Griffin was moved onto the Rockets “top” line with fellow wingers Lucas Latina and Kieran Milne. The trio are the only three veteran forwards in the Rockets’ lineup. They were ineffective. Harris joined fellow energy players Steve Griggs and Chris Williams on the Rockets’ third line. They were buzzing.

Max Vinogradov, Brenden Trottier and John Warren each had a pair of goals. Austin Kemp added the other for the Nats. For the talented Warren it was his 27th and 28th of the season in just 26 games.

Shane Bulitka scored for the Rockets extending his point streak to 8 games.

Davies took the loss for the Rockets allowing 4 goals on 19 shots. Dane Gubbels allowed 3 goals on 22 shots in relief.

Zack Weir picked up the win for the Nationals.

(photo credit – Mike Maloney – ourlondon.ca)

David Honsberger

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