Wall Nips Stars At Last Second And Becomes All-Time Rookie Wins Leader – by C. Scott Holland

It was a small crowd of 593, but the cheers at the game’s conclusion sounded as if there were three times that many present. In spectacular fashion the Leamington Flyers accomplished several feats on Thursday night when they nipped the visiting St. Thomas Stars 2-1 thanks to a last second goal which eliminated any possible overtime, despite the fact that those in attendance were expecting just that.

Prior to the contest, the Flyers honoured their 10 graduating players: JP Grineau, Jacob McGhee, Aaron Langlois, Scott Emerson, Luke Sanko, Colin Moore, Matthew Opblinger, Mitch Amante, David Storey and Michael Barrett.

The St. Thomas Stars despite playing well, were given a couple of lessons on how to play better by the hometown Flyers and had it not been for netminder Dan Black, St. Thomas would have been looking for an earlier trip back home.

When the final buzzer sounded the Flyers had edged the Stars 2-1 in a game very similar to that of a classic playoff contest.

While the Stars only generated 13 shots on Flyers starter Tyler Wall, it was St. Thomas netminder Dan Black who had the heavy work load. He stopped 40 of 42 pucks that came his way and made some dazzling saves. Wall likewise  halted several point blank shots which could have tuned the tide, too.

The best part of this contest was the fact that it was a clean game. St. Thomas had only three penalties and Leamington four. Only one of the four penalties caused any damage and it was the game’s first one. At 1:31 of the opening frame Black caused some of his own misery when he acidently shot a puck over the glass for a delay of game.

On the subsequent Flyers’ powerplay, JP Grineau and Mark Gangnon hooked up with Matthew Opblinger who snapped a screen shot from the left lane which handcuffed Black and it was 1-0.

The Flyers defense began its puck control and the Leamington forwards entrenched themselves into continuing their dominance with fluid puck movement and some timely shots. For several minutes in each of the first two periods the Stars often found themselves hemmed in their own zone and on one powerplay drive St. Thomas looked more like they were the defending team not the attacking one.

The Stars best and most prolonged attack came at the start of the second when they put the Flyers’ defense on their heels and created several good scoring attempts only to have Wall or the Flyers’ defense foil any chance. But like in the first stanza, the Flyers’ puck movement was superb and the Stars spent a great deal of time in their own end. Had Black not been stellar the score easily could have been much greater than 1-0 at the end of 40 minutes.

The Stars only had 10 shots on Wall by the start of the third while Black had faced 28 shots.

At 9:11 of the third, St. Thomas finally got a break when Carson Brookshaw and Matt McJannet moved the puck to Carson Moniz whose shot from Wall’s right weaved through a maze of players and found an opening to knot the contest.  Brookshaw’s assist moved him into a tie with Lambton Shores Predator Ethan Sarfati for the Western Conference scoring title.  Brookshaw and the Stars have just one game to play while Sarfati and the Preds have three.

Thereafter the Flyers pressed hard and did not allow the Stars to gain the Flyers’ end. Immense pressure was applied by the Flyers to the youthful Stars’ defense and Black and as the clock’s final seconds of regulation evaporated, Mitch Amante and Scott Florence tried banging the puck past Black but to no avail. Mark Manchurek gunned one last effort towards Black as the final second came. Manchurek’s shot bounced off two players and behind Black as the clock read .5 seconds left.

It was a miracle, but a rather welcome one as the Flyers claimed their 40th victory of the season and Tyler won his 27th game as a rookie – a mark that is a new high in the west Conference beating the old mark of 26 set by Chatham’s Sean Robertson in 2000/01.

The Stars will finish in fifth place and play either Chatham or LaSalle while the first-place Flyers hit that rare 40 win milestone and will play either St. Marys or Lambton in the first round.

NOTES: Leamington has one game left – in St. Marys on Friday night – it could well be the first of five straight games against the current 8th seed …There were several scratches on both sides. St. Thomas was missing Ethan Nother, Carter MacCormick and Carson Espiu; Leamington was without Joe Urbanic, Scott Emerson and David Strathroy Rockets GM/coach Chad Dawson …Tyler Wall’s remarkable rookie campaign stands at 27 wins, 2 losses ad 1 tie with a sparkling 1.49 gaa (the best in the GOJHL) …This is only the second Flyers team to amass 40 wins – the 1998/99 squad had 44 …The West Conference awards banquet will be hosted by Leamington on Mon. Feb. 29 and first-round playoffs are slated to begin later next week. The Flyers first playoff game could be next Thursday. Stay tuned for more playoff details.

(photo credit – theweeklynews.ca)

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.

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