The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League best-of-seven semi-finals have begun.

In the Western Conference the Chatham Maroons have opened a 1-0 lead over the London Nationals while the LaSalle Vipers and the Leamington Flyers are tied 1-1.

The Maroons swept the St Thomas Stars 4-0 in the quarter-finals while the Nationals took out the St. Marys Lincolns in 5 games.  Leamington needed 6 games to get past the Sarnia Legionnaires while the first place Vipers advanced with a hard-fought 4-game sweep over the Strathroy Rockets.

After taking game one on LaSalle ice on Wednesday, March 15 by a 5-2 score the Leamington Flyers wasted a golden opportunity by handing home ice advantage back to the Vipers the following night as LaSalle earned a narrow 4-3 win in Leamington.

In game one Leamington was paced by a three-goal performance by Blake Bain (3,4,5).  Brett Vorshuk (3) and Liam Hogan (1) also scored for the Flyers.  Dede Cato (1) and Daniel Beaudoin (3) replied for the Vipers.  The Flyers never trailed in the game.  Bain scored his first just 67 seconds into the series.  The score was tied 1-1 after a first period that saw the Flyers outshoot the Vipers 13-4.  Leamington led 3-1 after two periods.  Final shots favoured the Flyers 34-30 in front of 903 fans.  The Flyers went 1 for 3 on the powerplay while the Vipers were 0 for 2.  Bain completed his hat trick with an empty net goal.  Noah Hedrick earned the win.  Eli Billing was tabbed with the loss.

Special teams were the difference in the Vipers’ 4-3 win in game two.  LaSalle struck with a powerplay goal by Tyler Russell (1) and shorthanded marker by Liam MacDougall (1).  Russell (2) added a second goal at even strength along with Manny Silverio (3).  It was MacDougall’s first goal of the post-season.  The sniper, who finished fifth in Western Conference goal scoring in the regular season with 29 markers, was shut out by the Rockets in the opening round.

The Flyers failed to score a special teams’ goal going 0 for 3 with the man advantage.  LaSalle was 1 for 2 along with the shorthanded goal.  Hogan (2), Flyer captain Zach Guilbeault (7) and Vorshuk (4) replied for the Flyers.

The Flyers had led 2-0 by 4:44 of the opening period and carried a 3-2 lead into the sixth minute of the third period.  MacDougall’s shorthanded goal was the back-breaking tying goal at 6:40.  Silverio’s game winner came at 12:31.

The Vipers outshot the Flyers in all three periods for a 37-28 advantage in front of 912 fans.  The game marked the return of Jack Van Boekel on defense for the Vipers.  The 6’ 7” rearguard is a former Strathroy Rocket who spent 3 years in the QMJHL with St. John and Val d’Or.  He had been sidelined with a shoulder injury since February 8.

Hedrick, who took the loss in goal for the Flyers, took two minor penalties in the game.  Billing earned the win.

In contrast to the two disciplined contests between LaSalle and Leamington, Chatham and London sent a steady stream of players to the penalty box in game one of their series.  Both clubs converted 1 of 7 powerplay opportunities.  The Maroons led 1-0 after one period and 2-1 after two periods en route to their 4-1 victory.

Bryce Yetman (2), Kevin Gursoy (6), Brendan D’Agostino (2) and Bobby Harrison (2) into an empty net, scored for the Maroons.  Gursoy leads the Maroons in playoff scoring.  Adam Sinclair (2) tied the game briefly for the Nationals in the second period.

Maroon goaltender Brendan Johnston was the difference in the evenly played game.  He made many outstanding saves to preserve the win for the Maroons.  The Nats outshot the Maroons 32-29 in front of 1,230 boisterous Chatham fans.  Cameron Zanussi took the loss for the Nationals.

In the other two GOJHL Conference semi-finals, three-time defending Sutherland Cup champion Caledonia leads Ancaster 2-0 and Kitchener is up 1-0 on Elmira.  St. Catharines vs. Niagara Falls and Listowel vs. Waterloo have yet to get started.

(photo – Leamington Flyers facebook)

David Honsberger

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