Flyers Edge London 2-1 In West Finals Opener – by C. Scott Holland
Game one of the West Conference finals proved to be anything but dull for the 1,220 fans who gathered at the Highbury Canco Arena in Leamington to watch the contest. Both teams had their scoring chances as well as physical plays- backchecks and forechecks – plus moments of bouncing pucks and missed opportunities. All the game’s scoring came in the opening frame which created a close match for the remaining 40 minutes.
At the outset London came out gunning to trigger the opening goal. The Nationals dominated for about the first five minutes but couldn’t get any pucks past Tyler Wall. When the Flyers finally woke up, they unleashed a relentless barrage of shots . At 6:46 the Flyers grabbed a precious 1-0 lead when after plucking an initial rebound from a JP Grineau point shot, Mitch Amante tried banging a loose puck past Nats’ starter Connor Hughes, however it was Liam Hogan who netted the goal after getting control of a fourth rebound after a wild Leamington flurry.
After London survived an early penalty, Flyers forward Mark Gangnon was assessed a highsticking penalty and the Nats went to work. London’s powerplay puck movement was crisp and they kept control as Brendan Trottier slid a pass to Matt Doty who was at the top of the slot. Doty pumped a screen shot that bounded to the left side of Wall and suddenly it knotted the match 1-1.
But at 16:27 National goaltender Hughes went behind his net to stop a routine Flyer shoot in. Hughes stopped the puck and left it behind the net thinking he was leaving it for a National defenseman. As he returned to his goal Flyer Mark Manchurek raced behind the London net on the opposite side and beat Hughes to the front of the goal. It appeared as if Manchurek’s diving wrap around attempt bounced off Hughes and into the net. That unfortunate tally stood as the eventual game-winner.
In the second period Leamington applied some pressure but their forwards found themselves hard-pressed to hit any openings Hughes gave them. The game’s intensity and physical nature ramped up too. However Leamington’s defensive executions allowed them to control the majority of play until the final buzzer sounded.
Early in the third while still clinging to that slim 2-1 lead, Leamington had a five-on-three situation as Alex Cimino and Callum Ruddock both took minor penalties while defending their own zone. But the Flyers powerplay wasted far too much time passing and hardly got a shot on net. The man advantage was wasted when Scott Emerson took a highsticking minor. It also killed any chance the Flyers had to take a bigger lead. London, themselves, had two powerplay chances on which to gain the equalizer, but, like Leamington, couldn’t seem to muster many quality shots on net. And when they did, Wall came up with a big save. Leamington’s defense played much like they did in regular season and used puck control and hard work digging in the corners and side boards to stifle London in the final 45 seconds during which time they had an extra attacker. The third period was London’s best outside of the opening five minutes of the game.
Leamington had 40 shots on net and went zero for six on the powerplay while London had 21 shots and went one for three with the man advantage.
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. He resides in Leamington.