Battle Of Titans Closer Than Final Score – by C. Scott Holland

For several years the London Nationals and Leamington Flyers have been the titans of the GOJHL’s West Conference. No other team in the West has won the playoff title during the last six seasons and the only time since 2010/11 that a team other than Leamington or London won it was St. Thomas. To further demonstrate why these two squads are titans, London has been in the West playoff finals five out of the last seven campaigns and Leamington has won it or been runner-up in all of the last four.

Both clubs could easily be called dynasties and yet the rosters for both teams have changed. This season is no exception.

Thursday night’s first meeting of the two clubs for the 2017/18 season was a renewal of their heated rivalry. And despite the overwhelming great, outdoor weather, 595 fans witnessed some of the best hockey action the Nationals and Flyers displayed.

There was plenty of high-level skill, grittiness and sportsmanship throughout the 60-minute match. Leamington took home a 6-3 victory, but that final score was a bit deceiving since it included two empty-net tallies. The Nationals may have lost this round but their competitiveness was relentless and certainly will show improvement the next time these two play again.

The Flyers came out looking strong, but Pat Powers’ London squad matched the tempo. The Nats got on the scoreboard first when Max Vinogradov plucked a third rebound surrendered by Flyers’ netminder Connor Meyerink and snapped it home at 4:18. Meyerink had no chance on Vinogradov’s left side tally. A few minutes later the Flyers knotted the count when a two-on-one breakaway developed. Flyers’ rookie Stephane Crevier ripped the puck high over the left shoulder of Nats’ goalie Jukka Schotter. At 11:16 Jordan Di Cocco unleashed  top of the slot shot that caromed off a player and found the Flyers’ net for a screen shot goal to put London ahead. But the Flyers refused to be subdued. Preston Corp hooked a pass to Cody Schneider who zipped around the net and tucked in a wrap-around goal at 12:30 to tie the game.

At the outset of the second, it looked as though London had come to life but the Flyers defense buckled down and at 2:33 Andrew Thoms fed Josh Pope-Ferguson who drilled a shot that vaulted the Flyers into a 3-2 lead. Both sides had chances and both sides played a tighter, more physical game. Another two-on-one break by the Flyers resulted in what would be the eventual gamewinning tally. Zach Guilbeault sent the puck ahead to Dalton Langlois before finding Kenny Styles. Styles wasted little time in racing in close and beating Schotter who was sprawled along the ice. That marker came at 5:16 and Powers elected to lift his goalie in favour of spare Zach Springer. The game had been a clean one for refs Wade Peltier and Jake Morrasut until a bit of pushing and shoving commenced in the Flyers zone before Nat Brandon Glover and Flyer Zach Guilbeault took each other to the ice. Both were ushered off for coincidental two-minute roughing calls.

Holding a 4-2 lead heading into the third, the Flyers did not look like the same team despite the fact that they played superb defensively. For much of the frame, London’s experienced vets hemmed the Flyers in their own zone and created some scoring chances. The Flyers’ game was hampered somewhat by the two-minute minor for head contact and a 10-minute misconduct taken by Bryce O’Brien in the early minutes. Midway through a bench minor for too many men again gave London an opportunity. The Nats did not reap any rewards on those two calls. However with Brett Primeau serving an interference penalty at 14:57 and a faceoff deep in the Flyers zone, the Nats’ Austin Jeffers cashed in a shorthanded goal to apply intense pressure to the Flyers’ dense. London took a huge gamble with 3:31 left. They pulled goalie Zach Springer for an extra attacker. To the Flyers’ credit they kept the Nats off balance and limited the scoring chances and the few quality shots they did get, goalie Connor Meyerink handled. After the Flyers had had several near misses on the empty net, Blake Bain succeeded in converting a long backhand from the neutral zone to seal the victory at 19:36. With Springer remaining on the bench London tried again, but this time Dylan Weston banked a pass to Cory Schneider who raced down the left wing and went in close to tap in another empty-net goal and make it a 6-4 contest with 10 seconds remaining.

The win leaves the Flyers with a 5-0 record – one of their best starts ever.

AHEAD:  The London Nationals only play one game in the next two weeks when they host the Chatham Maroons on Sept. 27. After that they do not play until a home contest on Oct. 4th …Leamington travels to play in Chatham on Sun. Sept. 24 at 7 pm then return home to play their first contest against the Komoka Kings next Thursday, Sept. 28.

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 writes occasional articles for the Southpoint Sun and the Strathroy Age Dispatch. 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, Mid-West and Golden Horseshoe Conference and GOJHL Record Books and Playoff Record Books  He has been a member of he Leamington Jr. Flyers hockey club for the last 28 years and has served many years as a board member, statistician, in the press box as an 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. 

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