Strathroy native Josh Diamond continues to shine in goal for the Strathroy Rockets however his elusive first win still escapes his grasp.  After designated number one starter Zack Weir was yanked by coach Mike Bondy after the Chatham Maroons had built a 4-0 lead before the midway point of the second period on Saturday, December 9 at the WMMC in Strathroy, Diamond came on in relief turning aside all 17 shots he faced, many of the very difficult variety.  Diamond’s teammates rallied in front of him scoring 3 consecutive goals to cut Chatham’s lead to 4-3 before Bryce Yetman potted an empty net powerplay goal with Diamond on the ice for an extra attacker with 28 seconds remaining to secure the win.

The Chatham (14-13-0-1) win moved the sixth place Maroons 6 points below the fifth place Sarnia Legionnaires (16-11-1-2).  The Rockets’ (7-21-1-1) loss combined with Komoka’s (7-18-3-1) double overtime 3-2 upset win over the first place London Nationals (21-6-0-2) moved the Kings past the Rockets into sole possession of seventh place.  The Rockets presently sit in the eighth and final playoff position one point up on the last place St. Marys Lincolns (6-19-1-2).  The Lincolns have 2 games in hand.

The Rockets missed a golden opportunity to snap their losing streak and help Diamond pick up his first win.  Chatham dressed just 2 goaltenders and 13 skaters for the match, 5 players under the roster limit.  Although the Maroons were quite assertive in the first two periods they ran out of gas early in the third period.  After a pair of Rocket goals in the first 3:58 of the third period just 18 seconds apart Maroon coach Ron Horvat called a timeout to rally his troops.  The ploy worked.  Suddenly gone was the sluggish Maroon passing and positional play.  They had a little more jump in their legs and played a defensively strong period over the duration of the game.  Horvat commented, “Guys played a solid 2-way game.  They played smart in all 3 zones.  Being shorthanded in numbers, they dug down deep and hung on for the win.”   The loss extended the Rockets losing streak to 8 games, their longest futility mark of the season.  They have won 2 of their previous 18 games.

The Maroons led 1-0 after one period outshooting the Rockets 14-9.  The Rockets were given an excellent opportunity to open the scoring when Dakota Bohn and Jake O’Donnell drew minor penalties just 23 seconds apart giving the Rockets a lengthy 2-man advantage. Micheal Wood and Rocket captain Greg Marks both rattled pucks off of the iron behind Ryan Wagner in the Maroons goal but the Rockets were unable to find the range between the pipes. Grant Spence opened the scoring on the powerplay with Emmet Pierce off for slashing at 7:26.  Spence’s right lane shot found a way past Weir through traffic.

Dane Johnston gave the Maroons a 2-0 lead at 4:49 of the second period when he faked a pass on the rush down the left wing and rifled a blast off the post and into the net.  Steven Fowler upped the ante to 3-0 at 6:27 on a perfectly executed 2-on-1 with Josh Supryka.  When newcomer defenseman Dawson Garcia’s stretch pass from deep in the Chatham zone to Yetman at the Rocket blueline sprung the Maroon sniper behind the Rocket defense the Maroons had increased their lead to 4-0 forcing the goaltending change.

Diamond had no sooner took his position in the Rockets net than he was tested by a Noah Labonte breakaway.  Labonte cut left to right across the front of the Rocket goal forcing Diamond to come up with a dazzling extended lower pad save.  Seconds later Diamond turned aside a trio of Chatham point blank chances.  Inspired by the performance of their goaltender the Rockets pressured the Maroons for the remainder of the period and were rewarded for their diligent efforts when Marks’ shot from the left side on a rush squeaked through Ryan Wagner’s pads and into the gaping cage.  The goal came on the powerplay with Eric Carter off for highsticking.  Second period shots favoured Chatham 19-14.

With Maroon Johnstone sitting out a head contact penalty Marks notched his second of the game with a blast from the point at 3:40.  Adrian Franklin knocked in a loose puck from a scramble 18 seconds later for his first goal of the season and the Maroon lead was shaved to 4-3.  Yetman’s second of the match into an empty net with Pierce serving a too many players on the ice penalty sealed the win for the Maroons.  The Rockets outshot the Maroons 17-11 in the third period.  Finals shots were 43-40 for Chatham.  The Maroons won 48 of 84 faceoffs (57.1%).  Both clubs converted 2 of 6 powerplay chances.

TJ Harris and Wood led all Rockets with 5 shots on goal.  Marks and Cameron Rombouts had 4 each.  Yetman paced the Maroons with 10 shots.  Spence had 6 while Johnstone and Garcia each had 5.  Wagner (12-8) picked up the win while Weir (7-15-1) was pegged with the loss.  The match featured a pair of crushing body checks, the first by Bohn on Wood and later Wood on O’Donnell.

The Rockets will try to put a positive spin on things with 3 games prior to the Christmas break.   They will host St. Thomas (18-9-1-1) on Saturday, December 16 for their Annual Cuddy’s Social Committee’s Teddy Bear Toss before heading to Chatham for a rare Thursday night game on the 21st and welcoming Sarnia on the 23rd.  On December 17 from 5-7pm the team will hold their annual Christmas Skate with the Rockets presented by Collins Barrow, Quinlan, Hemeryck, Barnett Lawyers, Mainstreet Credit Union, Ricco Food Distributor and Strathroy Domino’s Pizza.

David Honsberger

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