In their final game before the Christmas break the Strathroy Rockets (7-23-1-2) wanted dearly to gift wrap a win for their devoted fans and snap a 10-game losing streak at the WMMC, but it was not to be.  The local club held 2-0 and 4-2 leads over the visiting Sarnia Legionnaires (20-11-1-3) but had to settle for a 5-4 overtime loss.  The valuable point earned broke the Rockets’ eighth place tie with the St. Marys Lincolns (6-21-1-3) moving the Rockets into sole possession of the final playoff spot and dropping the Lincolns into the basement.  The seventh-place Komoka Kings (7-20-4-2) lead the Rockets by 3 points. The come-from-behind win was an important one for the Legionnaires.  The two points moved Sarnia in sole possession of third place, one point below the second place Leamington Flyers (20-8-4-1) and two points up on the LaSalle Vipers (20-12-1-1) and the St. Thomas Stars (20-12-1-1).  The Legionnaires have taken all 4 games from the Rockets this year with 2 games yet to be played.  Overtime was required for two of the Sarnia victories.

A large pre-Christmas crowd of 439 was on hand to witness the spectacle.  This was largely due to Chris and Dana Stevens from All Seasons Concrete Forming Inc. who were the corporate sponsors of the game and provided tickets for the entire East Lambton Minor Hockey Association.  The Stevens are the proud parents of Rocket forward Matthew Stevens.

From the opening faceoff the Rockets burst out of the gate and stormed the Sarnia goal.  Nicolas Grandy buried a rebound after some diligent work from Emmet Pierce and Noah Campbell and the Rockets had an early 1-0 lead just 14 seconds into the match.  The Strathroy franchise record for fastest goal to start a game is 8 seconds set by Lucas Latina against Leamington on December 13, 2015.  The league record is 4 seconds set by Sarnia Legionnaire Nathan Mater against the London Nationals on November 14, 2013.

The Rockets continued to press the Legionnaires.  Seven minutes into the game Campbell walked out from behind the Sarnia net, deked Legionnaire goaltender Will Barber to the ice and roofed a backhand under the crossbar.  It was easily the nicest goal scored at West Middlesex this season.  The crowd erupted into jubilation as the Rockets celebrated the marker.  Seconds later the goal was waved off.  The net had apparently been dislodged before the puck crossed the line.

Undeterred the Rockets continued to swarm the Sarnia goal.  At 8:51 Spencer Allen buried a shot past Barber on a two-on-one with TJ Harris to put the Rockets up 2-0.

Sarnia finally got on the scoresheet at 12:16 when Trevor Bogaert found himself in the right spot in front of Rocket tender Zack Weir off of a scramble.  At 17:49 Sarnia had tied the game at 2-2 when Brock Perry wired a shot past Weir from a nice setup from behind the Rocket goal by Alec DeKoning.  The two clubs headed into the first intermission tied 2-2.  First period shots were also even at 16-16.

After seeing their 2-goal lead disappear the Rockets responded with a solid start to the second period.  Michael Wood one-timed a blast from the faceoff dot past Barber from a lovely cross-ice pass from Harris at 4:04 and Campbell found the back of the net after Barber had stopped Cameron Rombouts and Liam Whittaker at 10:02.

Sarnia head coach Mark Davis had seen enough of his team’s sluggish play and made a surprising goaltending change.  Barber was yanked for Lambton Jr. Sting AAA Major Midget call-up Nolan DeKoning.  The youngster was seeing his first GOJHL action.  Davis’ ploy worked.  His squad suddenly began playing much better to protect their inexperienced goaltender.  The Rockets only managed 3 shots on DeKoning for the remainder of the period – and 2 of those shots were dribblers which ended up on goal.  Sarnia’s inspired play also generated another goal when Greg Hay tallied at 18:06 cutting the Rocket lead to 4-3 heading into the second intermission.  The Rockets outshot Sarnia 13-12 in the middle frame.

With Barber back in goal to begin the third period the Legionnaires continued their improved play.  They completed their second comeback of the game at 8:54 when defenseman Matt Stoia’s screened shot through traffic tied the game at 8:54 on a Sarnia powerplay with Rocket call-up Colin Van Rooyen off for slashing.  The Rockets nearly found the game winner with 3:18 remaining in regulation.  Barber made the save of the game when he robbed Campbell with a remarkable glove save.  Sarnia enjoyed a 14-11 advantage in third period shots.

Sarnia had the better chances in overtime outshooting the Rockets 5-1.  The game winner came with 16 seconds remaining in the first overtime period when Hay sprung Perry on a one-on-one.  Perry’s quick shot beat Weir.  Sarnia outshot the Rockets 47-41 over the game.

Campbell was the best player on the ice for either team.  His diligent, hard-working play inspired his teammates.  The Ilderton native led all Rockets with 7 shots on goal. Harris, Allen and Rocket captain Greg Marks each had 4 shots.  Sarnia scoring leader Perry led the Legionnaires with 8 shots.  DeKoning had 7.  Jake Vince had 6 while Stoia had 5.  Sarnia enjoyed a slight edge in the faceoff circle winning 51 of 95 draws (53.7%).  Tristan Sedlak was tops for the Rockets going 11-9 (55%).

Special teams once again had an impact on the final score.  The Legionnaires converted 1 of 2 chances with 9 shots on goal while the Rockets were unsuccessful on 4 chances with 4 shots on goal.  Rocket assistant coach Mitch McNeil was absent from the game.  Head coach Mike Bondy ran the offense,

The Rockets will resume action on Friday, January 5 when they travel to St. Thomas for the final time this season at the former Timken Centre now renamed the Joe Thornton Arena.  The Chatham Maroons will make their final trip to Strathroy the following night at the WMMC.

(photo credit – Colleen Weindels Photography)

David Honsberger

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