Flyers Edge Rockets in Penalty-Filled Contest – by C. Scott Holland

What began as a typical Strathroy-Leamington contest turned into a rough uncharacteristic affair at the Highbury Canco Arena.

On a night that was billed as Teddy Bear Toss night, as well as one in which the hometown Flyers also accepted donations of winter hats, gloves, mitts and socks, 532 fans watched as the two teams played a quick and penalty-free opening period. Heading into the middle frame the two teams, who are almost at opposite ends of the standings spectrum, were knotted at 1-1. The lone bit of fireworks in the first came at 15:52 when Leamington’s Parker Jacques and Andrew Thoms hooked passes to former Rocket Cody Schneider who cranked a shot pass Rockets’ starting netminder Josh Diamond. That tally sent a flood of teddy bears to the ice and brought a Southpoint Stars’ team out to collect them.

Later in the game it was announced that approximately 460 bears had been thrown onto the ice and will go to the local Toys For Tots program.

Despite Leamington grabbing the early 1-0 lead the Rockets countered at 18:26 when Cameron Rombouts set up Emmett Pierce’s right lane shot which skipped off Flyers’ starter Noah Hedrick and was whisked into the open right side of the net by Spencer Allen.

The Flyers took the first penalty but survived it unscathed before Greg Marks’ was sidelined with Strathroy’s first “sin.” It was a costly one too, as the Flyers converted with the man advantage when Colton O’Brien laid the ground work for Blake Johnson’s initial shot which Diamond halted but Maddux Rychel dashed in to grab the loose puck and put it past Diamond for a  2-1 Leamington lead. After each side had taken a couple of minor penalties, things heated up with just over 90 seconds remaining in the period. Strathroy’s Aidan Burns and Braeden Bowers got tagged with 10-minute misconducts and Bowers got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Leamington’s Nathan Skulley was given a boarding call and a 10-minute misconduct. Just as time expired in the frame and the Rockets pressing behind the Flyers’ net, the scene turned into a brawl similar to a bench-clearing one in baseball. About the only difference was the fact that this one involved only the players on the ice. What apparently set it off was a two- minute charging penalty by the Rockets’ Matthew Stevens.

When the air had cleared at the start of the third the penalty box for each team had a few more occupants. The short-staffed Rockets were down to 7 skaters.  In all 7 players were handed minors and misconducts. The key goal of the contest came once again on a powerplay when Strathroy’s Aidan Burns received a tripping call at 10:13. Leamington wasted little time in notching the eventual game-winner. At 10:25, Blake Bain and Dalton Langlois set up Griffin Robinson who used a screen shot to blister the puck into the Rockets’ net from Diamond’s left side. But once again the Rockets showed their fortitude and resolve to get back into the game. An incident involving Bryce O’Brien and a Strathroy player just in front of the Flyers’ bench led to O’Brien led to O’Brien shoving the Rockets’ player once or twice and thus receiving a roughing penalty. This time goaltender Diamond made a quick pass to Greg Marks who in turn fed Spencer Allen. Allen’s high shot eluded Hedrick on the glove side and it was suddenly a 3-2 game with seven minutes left. Allen moved into a tie for the team scoring lead with TJ Harris who was sitting out the contest for exams.  The Rockets did not pull Diamond for an extra attacker until there was 30 seconds left on the clock and by then the Flyers’ defense eliminated any chance at a repeat of last week’s final second, miracle rally.

NOTES:  The Flyers were without Zach Guilbeault and Jaydon Fetter who were sitting out the first of two game suspensions stemming from the previous week …The Rockets had Ben Diamond (APJ) and spare goalie Logan Vermunt (APJ) in the lineup but were missing goalie Zach Weir, Joe Capirchio, Michael Wood, Denis Novikov and TJ Harris who were writing exams ..Novikov, the latest addition to the lineup has only played on one out of three games since his signing …Rockets’ netminder Josh Diamond played a superb game and made several incredible saves including one with his paddle as he moved left to right to prevent a goal. He was certainly the game’s first star …With the victory the Flyers moved back into sole possession of second place but have Sarnia and LaSalle hot on their heels two points back …For the Rockets it remains a dogfight among the bottom three as they failed to gain any ground on St. Marys or Komoka. Two of the three will make playoffs and one will not – a Leamington-Strathroy first round could be conceivable the way things are going, but there is still just under half a season remaining before any final positions are decided …For the first time in nearly two season MyFM’s Chris Soares was at the Highhbury Canco Arena to broadcast the game and indulge in his favourite: a double bacon cheesburger, as featured in his pregame show.

(Photo:  Southpoint Stars Girls Hockey Team collecting the bears by C. Scott Holland)

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