ROCKETS EARN DOUBLE OVERTIME WIN – DROP TO SEVENTH – CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT
The Rockets finished the month of January playing three games in four nights. On Thursday, January 26 they lost a 6-2 decision to the Legionnaires in Sarnia before being outworked in a 5-2 setback to a determined St. Marys Lincolns squad on Saturday at the WMMC and then earned a come-from-behind 5-4 double overtime win against the visiting Lambton Shores Predators on Sunday. The victory clinched a playoff spot for the Rockets.
The Rockets (14-22-2-4) had a 3-5-0-1 record in January and slid to seventh place. They trail sixth place St. Marys (17-22-2-4) by one point and lead eighth place St. Thomas (13-23-1-2) by 5 points. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
The Sarnia Legionnaires (20-17-0-4) utilized a 5-point performance from Zach Vanderwal and an effective powerplay for a 6-2 win over the Rockets at The Sarnia Arena. Vanderwal finished the night with a goal and four assists. Teammate Cameron Rannie tallied a pair of first period goals and defenseman Sam McCormack added 3 assists. The Sarnia powerplay clicked on 3 of 5 chances; a fourth Sarnia goal came just one second after a Rocket penalty had elapsed.
The Legionnaires outshot the Rockets 38-23, including a 15-4 advantage in a second period in which Sarnia outscored the Rockets 3-0. The Legionnaires led 2-1 after one period and both teams exchanged goals in the third period.
The Sarnia win moved the fifth place Legionnaires 12 points ahead of the sixth place Rockets in the Western Conference standings of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. Sarnia leads the season series with Strathroy 4 wins to one. The loss left the Rockets precariously just 1 point ahead of the St. Marys Lincolns and 2 points up on the St. Thomas Stars. The Rockets and the Legionnaires will meet for their final encounter on their last game of the regular season.
Rannie (5) got Sarnia off to a great start at 1:41. The goal came quickly off a faceoff win in the Rocket defensive zone to the left of Strathroy netminder Zack Weir lifting the 1,430 spectators out of their seats. The 1,430 fans are well above Sarnia’s GOJHL league average best attendance of 1,255. Many Rocket supporters made the trip to Sarnia to support their local club.
At 9:51 Rannie (6) notched his second goal when he stripped the puck from Rocket defenseman Greg Sparks at the side of the Rocket goal and swept it past Weir. With Sarnia’s Brett Storr off serving a slashing penalty Matt Bastlow’s (10) low shot from the faceoff dot to the right of Sarnia goaltender Jorgen Johnson cut the Sarnia lead to 2-1.
With Rocket Spencer Allen off for a slashing penalty late in the period, Rocket scoring leader Steve Griggs came close to tying the game with a shorthanded attempt that rattled off the goal post before Sarnia had a goal waved off with 27 seconds remaining in the period. Rocket netminder Weir made his best stop of the night with 1.5 seconds left in the period to keep the score at 2-1 heading into the first intermission. First period shots were even at 10-10.
Rocket general manager Mike Bondy felt that “we came out a little sleepy” and felt that “consistency” has been the biggest challenge that the Rockets have been facing this season.
At 1:33 of the second period the Legionnaires increased their lead to 3-1 when a McCormack blast from the centre point position was tipped past Weir by Ethan Dupont (10) one second after Allen penalty had expired.
A pair of Dalton Good penalties (cross checking, kneeing) both resulted in second period Sarnia goals. Nash Neinhaus (3) scored on the rush as he dove at an Alex Dekoning pass. Goaltender Johnson also assisted on the play at 6:23.
Sarnia continued to pour on the pressure. Both Neinhaus and Dupont found the iron behind Weir before an Eric Marsh (4) powerplay goal with a nice wrist shot to the right of Weir built the Sarnia lead to 5-1 at 16:14.
Rocket newcomer Carson Poulin came on in relief for Weir to begin the third period. The two clubs exchanged third period goals. The Rockets were outshot 13-9.
With Good off for an interference penalty, Vanderwal’s (6) wrist shot beat Poulin to put the Legionnaires up 6-1. It was a rough night for the Rocket alternate captain. Good drew four minor penalties and the Legionnaires capitalized on three of them. A T.J. Harris’ (8) snap shot found the corner behind Johnson at 17:20 to make the final score 6-2.
Saturday, January 28 at the West Middlesex Memorial Centre the Rockets found themselves in seventh place after the St. Marys Lincolns edged the first place LaSalle Vipers 4-3 the previous night at the Pyramid Recreation Centre in St. Marys to move one point ahead of the Rockets.
With sixth place on the line, the Lincolns appeared a little nervous and tentative in the early going. The Rockets took advantage and an early lead at 47 seconds when an alert Dalton Good pass down the left wing sprung T.J. Harris (9) in behind the Lincoln defense. Harris’ quick shot beat Lincoln netminder Graham Dynes.
At 8:47 it appeared as if the two team captains, Lucas Latina for the Rockets and Chad Heffernan for the Lincolns were going to engage in fisticuffs. Latina dropped his gloves and stick. Heffernan, the leader in GOJHL penalty minutes, did not. The two went to the penalty box for inciting misconducts and Latina picked up an extra minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Heffernan was a thorn in the Rockets’ side throughout the entire game. The Peterborough native spent 4 years in the OHL with Belleville, Sudbury and London. He was an imposing and effective agitate on the ice winning many battles along the boards for the puck and drawing the Rockets into several penalties.
Rocket winger Michael Wood had an excellent opportunity to increase the Rocket lead with a shorthanded breakaway but the Lincolns’ 6’ 7” giant goaltender Dynes was equal to the task.
At 18:27 the Rocket goal scorer Harris was ejected from the game with a check from behind on Zach Otto. The penalty was a costly one as Kenny Chisholm (12) completed a lovely give-and-go play with Alessio Luciani on the rush to tie the game at 1-1 at 18:55. Just 41 seconds last Clayton Lewis (8) surprised Rocket netminder Zack Weir with a shot high on the blocker side from a tight angle and the Lincolns had a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission. St. Marys head a 12-11 lead in shots in goal.
The two late first period Lincoln goals were a sign of things to come. Despite both teams scoring once in the second period St. Marys began to take over the territorial play from the Rockets. They outshot the Rockets 14-9 in the middle frame.
With Spencer Allen off for roughing and Max Ewart for cross checking the Lincolns had a two-man advantage for 1:12. Heffernan’s (12) well placed wrist shot from the point found the back of the net and the Lincoln’s had a 3-1 lead at 10:08.
Cody Schneider (18) got the Rockets back to within a goal at 11:58 when his screened shot from the sideboards beat Dynes. Schneider temporarily took over the Rocket lead in goals scored this season with the marker from Rocket scoring leader Steve Griggs.
In the opening minute of the third period Mark Bastow stripped the puck from defenseman Colin Capstick and sped in on Dynes only to have the Lincoln keeper come up with another key save.
Matthew Stevens tried to ignite his Rocket teammates when he easily won a decision over Capstick in a quick tussle at 3:32.
At 4:09 the Lincolns got the insurance goal they were looking for after a barrage of shots at the Rocket goal. Weir stopped Heffernan and Tanner Hertel before Dan Cloutier (5) snapped home the second rebound.
The hitting intensified for the remainder of the game. Rocket Brady Hogg stood up Dylan Nafziger with a solid hit at the Rocket blueline and Allen pounded Tyson Kielt into the boards. Allen had a particularly effective game. Rocket coach Jason Glover called on Allen to play both defense and forward and Allen was engaged with a running duel with the imposing Heffernan throughout the entire contest.
With time running out and the Rockets looking to pull Weir for an extra attacker, the Lincolns erased those plans with a quick goal by Nafziger off a faceoff win at 17:55.
With the Rockets still pressing in the dying moments Weir denied Brent West on a breakaway. Third period shots were 13-9 for the Lincolns and 39-29 over sixty minutes. The Lincolns nipped the Rockets in faceoffs 48-46. The Rockets held a 20-9 lead in faceoffs after one period. Latina led all Rockets in the faceoff circle (7-2). Dillon Saunders led the Rockets in shots on goal with 4. Bastlow, Michael Wood and Schneider each had three.
The win was the fifth straight for the surging Lincolns. The Rockets have dropped their last three contests. The Rockets lead the season series over the Lincolns 3 games to two.
Special teams had a huge impact on the result of the game. The Lincolns clicked on 2 of 7 chances, while the Rockets were unsuccessful in 6 attempts. The Lincolns had an 11-8 lead on powerplay shots on goal. It was a determined and gritty effort from the Lincolns; their aggressive penalty killing was another key factor for their win.
Domino’s Pizza was the corporate sponsor of the game. Pizza was available for purchase at the west end of the arena pleasing the 349 fans in attendance.
The following night the Rockets hosted the last place Lambton Shores Predators (7-31-0-4). The Rockets faced some interesting adversities in the game and overcame a two-goal deficit before triumphing with a 5-4 double overtime win in front of 267 fans thanks to a 3-goal performance from Steve Griggs and a gutsy team effort.
It was a solid effort from the Predators as well. They entered the game missing 3 players and if not for the remarkable goaltending of former Rocket Tynan Lauziere the Rockets would have won easily in regulation time. The Rockets outshot the Preds 60-41. Lambton Shores’ scoring leader Andrew Kim was forced to play defense. He logged a great deal of ice and played an outstanding game.
The Preds took an early lead at 1:21 of the opening period when Keenan Dawdy (3) capitalized on a turnover at the Rocket blueline.
Late in the period with Predators Marcel Berube and Peter Cascagnette off for tripping and hooking the Rockets had a 2-man advantage for 1:51. They peppered Lauziere with shots but were unable to even the score. Lauziere made an unbelievable glove save on a pinching Dalton Good. Eight of the Rockets 22 shots in the first period came on the powerplay. The Preds fired 12 at Carson Poulin.
While on a 3-on-1 break early in the second period it appeared as if Lucas Latina beat Lauziere with a wrist shot from the slot but the on ice officials waved off the goal and the play was allowed to continue. The officials did convene following the whistle but the call on the ice was upheld.
Moments later Predator Brett Fisher (14) scored his first of two goals on the night when he tapped in a rebound from a point shot at 3:50 and Lambton Shores led 2-0.
At 4:44 Tristan Sedlak (5) got the Rockets on the board when he walked out from the corner and swooped the puck around a prone Lauziere.
Cale Markham (8) restored the Predators’ two-goal lead when he buried the puck on an odd-man rush at 7:31.
Trailing 3-1 the Rockets elevated the physical stature of their game. Michael Wood buried Cascagnette with a solid neutral zone hit.
With the two teams playing 4-on-4, Griggs (18) potted his first of the night scoring on a Max Ewart rebound at 10:19 to send the two teams to the second intermission with Lambton Shores holding a 3-2 lead. Second period shots were even at 18-18.
Cody Schneider (19) banged in the puck to tie the game at 3-3 just 29 seconds into the third period after Griggs and Ewart both stormed the Predators’ crease.
With Berube off for a slashing penalty Griggs (19) put the Rockets ahead for the first time 4-3 on the powerplay with a deadly shot on the rush at 11:47. The goal came seconds after Mark Bastlow had hit the goal post.
With time running out and Lauziere on the bench for an extra attacker, Brett Fisher (15) tied the game with a nice tic-tac-toe passing play with Max Griffioen and Kyle Fisher with 37 seconds remaining in regulation time. Third period shots were 15-10 for the Rockets.
Griggs (20) completed his hat trick and tallied the game winning double overtime goal at 32 seconds after a deft give-and-go with Ewart at the side of the Predator goal. Griggs displayed great patience, out-waited Lauziere until the Lambton Shores netminder was down on the ice and slipped the puck around him. The Griggs hat trick was a welcome relief for the Rockets and their supporters. With Griggs in a scoring slump the hockey club has struggled somewhat recently. The Griggs scoring outburst ended a 7-game scoring drought for the Rocket sniper. With 20 goals and 25 assists for 45 points, Griggs has already eclipsed last year’s scoring leader Shane Bulitka who had 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points. It also gives the Rockets a 20-goal scorer for the first time in 2 years. Cody Schneider currently sits with 19 goals so he is likely to join that exclusive 20-goal club soon.
The Rockets went 1 for 7 on the powerplay with 16 powerplay shots on goal. The Predators were 0 for 4 with 8 powerplay shots on goal.
The Rockets won 53 of 90 faceoffs (58.9%). Underage centre Ty Glover led all centres in the faceoff circle (12-5). Defenseman Dalton Good led all Rockets with 9 shots on goal. He was a rock on defense for the Rockets. Spencer Allen, who again was used both on defense and forward, had 7 shots. Latina had 6 while Griggs, Ewart and Chris Wood each had five. Overtime shots favoured the Rockets 5-1. The Rockets took 11 of 12 points from the Predators this season (5-0-0-1).
There are eight games remaining in the 2016-17 season for the Rockets, four at home and four on the road. They will begin on Wednesday, February 1 in LaSalle to play the first place Vipers before hosting the Chatham Maroons on Saturday, February 4. On Friday, February 10 the Rockets will make their final trip of the season to the Pyramid Recreation Complex in St. Marys to play the Lincolns. The following night LaSalle will make their final visit of the year to the WMMC. The Rockets will then complete a home and home series with the London Nationals. The Nats will travel to Strathroy on Saturday, February 18 and the Rockets will head to the Western Fair Community Sports Centre on Wednesday, February 22. Two nights later the Rockets will be at the Timkin Community Centre in St. Thomas to play the Stars on Friday, February 24 before completing the season at home on Saturday, February 25 against long time rivals, the Sarnia Legionnaires.
(photo credit – Colleen Wiendels Photography – Steve Griggs overtime winner)
David Honsberger has University degrees in Psychology and Child Studies. He is a former developmental therapist and child care worker at the Niagara Child Development Centre working with learning disabled, emotionally disturbed children. David was the former team statistician for the OHL St. Catharines Black Hawks and Niagara Falls Flyers under the legendary “Hap” Emms. He is a journalist and columnist for the Strathroy Age Dispatch. A winner of the Stuart Bolton Memorial Award for the Strathroy Rockets Volunteer of the Year in 1996, David served for seven years as the club’s president. He was honoured in 2015 when he was inducted into the Strathroy Rockets/Blades Wall of Fame in the builder category. A 20-year volunteer with the Rockets, David has provided colour commentary for the Strathroy Rockets radio broadcasts on 105.7 my FM. He resides in Strathroy with his mother and his two cherished Savannah cats, Scout and Hey, Boo. Now retired, David was the owner and operator of one of the longest running independent video stores in North America, Entertainment Tonight. David is presently the administrator of social media for Team Canada 72.