Leamington Vault Back Into Series Lead With 4-1 Win Over London – by C. Scott Holland
Sunday night’s contest between the London Nationals and the Leamington Flyers was the second of three games in three nights for the two West Conference clubs battling for the playoff title. But the 4-1 final in Leamington’s favour could have been higher had the Flyers put a few more pucks on net. It was a classic Flyers’ performance much like many others which some of the 984 fans in Leamington may have witnessed throughout the regular season.
Leamington received a tremendous boost from the superb netminding of veteran Michael Barrett, who hasn’t seen much playoff action this season, but stood his ground throughout the 60 minutes of play while the Flyers’ offense went to work to gain the victory and take a 2-1 series lead.
Despite facing only 22 Leamington shots Nats’ goalie Connor Hughes was lucky only four goals were allowed – one of which came with an empty-net in the last two minutes of the game. The Flyers had plenty of opportunity to cash in but still managed to take a lead and preserve it.
Among the crowd watching the contest were West Convenor Mark Tuck who has been at all 3 games plus former NHLer, Flyers’ coach and author of several hockey books, Vern Stenlund as well as former Leamington a/coach Marc Crevier.
Much of the credit for Leamington’s success was due to the defense. Both the Flyers’ forwards and the defense stymied London’s offense and especially the Nats’ powerplay units. (other than that cheap goal Ruddock got on a loose rebound). If London thought they could steal one in Leamington it wasn’t to happen. Also, the Flyers had the addition of #24 – Tyler Scott, a 20 year-old APJ, who plays for the Essex 73s, who provided a huge boost Leamington needed.
A 10 minute misconduct for warm-up violation given to Luke Sanko initially hurt the Flyers, but Mitchell Cevatin and Colin Moore laid the groundwork for Matthew Opblinger’s left-to-right move and by doing so Opblinger caught Hughes off guard and drilled the opening marker at 6:53.
The contest remained a close affair with jockeying for position and puck control. London’s first period attack left them outshooting the Flyers 11-5 but trailing on the scoreboard.
The tempo increased in the middle frame as the Flyers began exerting better puck control and had some good offensive drives while playing solid defensively. Leamington upped the score to 2-0 at 12:07 while on a powerplay as Nats’ player Tyler Sehovic was off for interference. Derek Elliott’s pass to Mitch Amante was planted on net but a loose rebound bounded onto Liam Hogan’s stick and he shoveled it past Hughes. Seconds after a two minute London powerplay ended, Callum Ruddock tapped in a loose rebound past Barrett during a scramble to break the shutout bid. Kevin Madden and Scott Dorion drew the assists on the tally.
The third period was wide open, back-and-forth hockey with plenty of hard-hitting checks delivered by both teams. The two squads battled hard to get the next goal which would determine the outcome.
The Flyers were rewarded with another good effort by Matthew Opblinger who danced down the right wing and closed in on Hughes before gunning a bullet-like shot that skipped past him and made it a 3-1 contest. That goal also ramped up the game’s intensity in much the same manner as a cook would crank up the heat on an oven. Both Hughes and Barrett made some dazzling saves and both teams also had some glorious chances which they squandered. London had one last powerplay attempt near the 14 minute mark but the Flyers’ defense was so stingy that London couldn’t barely penetrate the Flyers’ zone. As time slowly evaporated, London kept pressing to no avail until with 1:55 left in the game they lifted Hughes for an extra attacker. But even with the extra man London struggled to put a dent in Leamington’s armour. At 19:09 Zach Guilbeault and Hogan teamed up to get the puck to Derek Elliott who took a couple of strides in the neutral zone then unleashed a shot that sailed into the empty net to effectively put an exclamation mark on the victory. Hughes re-entered the game at the point but Leamington had claimed the victory and taken a 2-1 series lead.
Final shots on net had Leamington with 26 while London had 31. The Flyers went one for four on the powerplay while London was blanked on five attempts.
With this match now behind both teams, there could be some fireworks next game. Both teams have lots to think about in the 24 hour interval, but no matter what happens we know that Monday night’s game 4 (8:30 pm start) is bound to be another dandy in this series.
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.