After splitting a pair of games last week in Western Conference action of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Strathroy Rockets sit in a three-way tie for third place in the early season standings with the Komoka Kings and the LaSalle Vipers.  All three clubs trail the second place London Nationals by 2 points and the front-running Leamington Flyers by 4 points.  On Friday, September 15 the Rockets spoiled the St. Thomas Stars’ home opener with a 4-3 win before running out of time on Wednesday, September 20 in London as the Nationals raised their championship banner and won their home opener with a 5-2 decision over the Rockets.

Backed by the solid goaltending of Zack Weir the Rockets moved into a 3-way tie for second place with a 4-3 win in St. Thomas against the Stars.  The Rockets were outshot 39-25 including 13-8 and 17-8 spreads in the second and third periods.  Weir was particularly effective stopping offensive threats Kevin Hu and Adam Keyes.

It was a gritty effort from the Rockets who trailed 1-0 and 2-1 in the contest.  They eventually wore down the Stars capitalizing on scrambles in front of Star goaltender Kodie Oude Vashaar, who had great difficulty finding the puck in his crease.

The two teams were tied 1-1 after one period and 2-2 after two periods.  Rocket goals by Noah Campbell and Spencer Allen at 2:03 and 8:11 of the third period put the Rockets up 4-2 until Peter Fleming’s second goal of the game on the powerplay with Oude Vashaar on the bench for an extra attacker cut the Rocket lead to 4-3.  Hu also scored for the Stars.

Greg Marks and Ty Glover also scored for the Rockets.  Both Marks and Brady Hogg filled in nicely on the forward lines from their usual defensive positions.

Star Jake Robinson rattled the puck off of the crossbar and goal post while Justin Badour also found the iron behind Weir but not the mesh.  The Stars dominated in the faceoff circle winning 51 of 69 draws (73.9%).  The Stars converted 2 of 6 powerplay chances while the Rockets were unsuccessful in 3 opportunities.

In a battle for second place Weir kept up his solid play at the Western Fair as the Rockets came close to upsetting the veteran-laden two-time defending champion Nationals.  The Rockets were outshot 51-24 including 18-4 and 19-6 differentials in the first and third periods.  London led 2-1 after one period and 3-2 after two periods.

The high-flying Nationals needed an empty-net marker with Weir on the bench for an extra attacker with 71 seconds remaining in regulation time by Cohen Kiteley to secure the win.  Josh Coyle added an insurance marker with 18 seconds remaining in the contest.

Both clubs scored with their first shot on goal.  Liam Whittaker opened the scoring at 1:04 on a deadly shot from the high slot after cutting to the centre of the ice from the sideboards and Brenden Trottier tied the game at 1-1 at 2:11.  Kyle Dawson, nephew of former Rocket general manager and coach Chad Dawson, put the Nationals ahead at 6:38.

The Rockets’ Joe Capirchio and the Nats’ Jordan Di Cicco traded goals in the second period.  Di Cicco’s marker, which turned out to be the game winner, came on a screened blast from the point on the powerplay which found the top left corner.

London went 1 for 6 on the powerplay while Strathroy was unsuccessful in 3 opportunities.  Special teams have hurt the Rockets in the early going.  Their 10% powerplay percentage (2/20) is second lowest in the West Conference and their penalty killing, which was near perfect in the preseason, is dead last in the West (6/31, 80.7%).  Both clubs squandered lengthy 5-on-3 opportunities in the game.

Both Rocket underagers, 16-year-olds Whittaker and Emmet Pierce, had stellar games.  Rearguard Whitaker, who is a 5th round pick of the London Knights, scored the Rockets’ first goal and 6’ 6” winger Pierce, who lead many dangerous Rocket rushes, is a 4th round selection by the Knights.

The Rockets’ home opener is Saturday, September 23 when they host the St. Marys Lincolns and they will travel to Sarnia the following Thursday to engage the Legionnaires.

(photo – Zack Weir – Colleen Wiendels Photography)

David Honsberger

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