London Nips Flyers In Goaltenders’ Duel – by C. Scott Holland
In what was definitely a playoff preview the London Nationals nipped the Leamington Flyers 2-1 in an exciting and very physical game.
Goalies Tyler Wall of Leamington and Connor Hughes of London put on spectacular show. In the end though, it was Hughes’ outstanding third period which allowed the Nats to come away with the victory.
The contest even had a momentary delay at the start of the third which has almost become an ordinary circumstance whenever these two meet at Leamington’s Highbury Canco Arena.
From the drop of the first puck, the London Nationals controlled a vast amount of the game’s first half. During that spell, the Flyers often appeared as though they were still on their recent cruise. Leamington played well but uncharacteristically did not shoot much or have puck control, yet they managed to match London’s shot output. The lone difference was that London got on the scoreboard first. At 7:33 Colin Wilson and John Adams were in a scramble around Wall and the Flyers’ net. Kevin Madden poked the puck into the net.
Penalty problems hit both teams in the second with several stick infractions whistled and on one play late in the frame with the Flyers pressing, Hughes shot the puck into the stands and received a delay of game. Once again the equality of both team’s play was evident as they both had nine shots on net.
Prior to the start of the third the officials had to repair a huge gouge in the ice nearby the penalty box. Once the repairs were done the action resumed with Leamington Adams heating up their attack.
The contest’s intensity also was cranked up. Leamington hemmed London in their own zone for quite some time but found it difficult to beat Hughes. Finally, at 11:36 with Scott Dorion sitting out a goaltender interference call, the Flyers broke the goose egg. A slick three-way passing play developed as Luke Sanko and Matthew Opblinger found David Storey in the right lane and as time was almost expired on the penalty, Storey unleashed a bullet which caught Hughes by surprise. Knotted at 1-1 the Flyers continued to peck away at solving Hughes. But at 14:26 a defensive giveaway resulted in Austin Kemp racing deep down the right side and gunning a low liner towards Wall which found its way through several players in front of the net and eluded Wall. That tally stood as the eventual game-winner. After missing chances during a tripping penalty to Callum Ruddock, Leamington lifted Wall with 1:29 remaining. London kept the Flyers from doing any serious damage and the Flyers’ Mark Gangnon tripped a Nats’ player with 12 seconds left to end any Leamington chance at tying the game. In the third period alone, Hughes stopped 21 shots and had 39 total while Wall faced only 21 by London.
The London victory still leaves the Flyers with a magic number of any combination of three games won by the Flyers or three London losses in order to clinch their third consecutive regular season title. In the modern era (since 1977) only three teams have ever accomplished that feat – the Windsor Royals (1977/78 – 1979/80), the London Chester Pegg Diamonds (did it four times 1982-1985/86) and the Chatham Maroons (1999/2000-2001/02).
NOTES: Both teams have had players dealing with concussion issues. London was without the services of John Warren, Kyle Robinson and Scott Goodman while Leamington had Jacob McGhee, Mark Manchurek and Mitch Amante out. Cale Phibbs returned to the lineup after being out a short while. The two clubs meet one last time prior to playoffs – next Wed., Feb. 10 in London.
(photo credit – Leamington Flyers Twitter)
C. Scott Holland is an accomplished author, a former Western Jr. B Hockey League statistician and is recognized as the West Conference’s and GOJHL’s historian. A lifelong resident of Leamington Scott was a journalist for the now defunct Leamington Post for 26 years and currently writes for the Southpoint Sun. Among the books he has authored are: 75 Years: A History of the Leamington and Erie Shores Golf Course; A Century In The Making – History of Heinz Canada 1909-2009; Leamington Flyers 1992/93-2011/12 Platinum Anniversary Special Program; the Western Jr. B Record Book 2003/04 and 2005/05 editions; as well as updates of both the West Conference and GOJHL Record Books. He was been a member of he Leamington Jr. Flyers hockey club for the last 27 years and served many years as a board member, statistician, press box announcer, and scorekeeper among other duties. He has been named the West Conference Volunteer of Year and a Windsor-Essex Sportsperson of Year award.