The first place London Nationals needed an empty net goal by Kyle Dawson with 4.4 seconds remaining in regulation time to secure a 4-2 win over the Rockets.  Dawson is the nephew of former Rocket coach/GM Chad Dawson.

Although the Rockets were unable to snap their losing streak that has now stretched to 13 games, it was a gargantuan effort that pressed the front-running Nationals to the final buzzer.  London leads the season series 3-1 with 2 games yet to be played.

It was a rejuvenated Rocket club that skated onto the West Middlesex ice following the January 10 trading deadline.  They showcased their new netminder Vince Michelizzi and defenseman Austin Crouch.  Crouch had played 2 games earlier in the season with the Chatham Maroons, one of them a 3-1 victory against the Rockets.  Crouch was paired with Rocket captain Greg Marks.  The duo had a solid outing together.  Prior to the game Marks was presented with his second Poag Jewelers’ Player of the Month Award.  Marks was also a recipient last season.  Michelizzi had an impressive debut between the pipes for the Rockets.  The Newmarket native did an excellent job of staying square to the London shooters and not over-committing on the Nats’ slick passing plays.  If not for a 3:43 span in the second period, Michelizzi and his new Rocket teammates may have picked up their first home win in over 3 months.  London erased a 1-0 first period Strathroy lead with 3 quick goals in 3:43 past the midway point of regulation time.  The Rockets got back to within a goal with a Cameron Rombouts powerplay marker at 6:09 of the third period setting up a final hectic 14 minutes until Dawson’s empty net marker sealed the National win.

It has been over two months since the last Rocket win, a 4-2 triumph over the last place Lincolns in St. Marys on November 10.  The Rockets last home win was three months ago on October 14 when the Rockets upended the LaSalle Vipers 4-1.  Oddly the big Rocket win came just a day before the Rockets’ unfortunate 14-0 loss in Chatham which began their downward spiral where they have earned just 2 wins in their last 23 games.

London had a couple of excellent opportunities to open the scoring with a pair of 5 on 3 opportunities but Michelizzi and the Rocket penalty killers stood firm.  Despite being outshot 16-9 in the opening frame it was the Rockets who tallied first when a Rombouts’ blast missed the net but bounced off the back boards to Adrian Franklin who fired the puck past Zachary Springer from a difficult angle from the sideboards with Springer out of position at 17:09.  Moments later Dawson was turned aside by Michelizzi on a breakaway to preserve the 1-0 Rocket first period lead.

Springer prevented the Rockets from going up 2-0 stopping a pair of one-timers from Michael Wood and TJ Harris on a Rocket powerplay.  They were massive saves as the Nats would explode seconds later for 3 quick goals.  The tying goal came on the powerplay with Noah Campbell off for a head contact penalty.  London has the top powerplay in the GOJHL.  A Max Vinogradov laser from the top of the faceoff circle was deflected by newcomer Riley MacRae past Michelizzi at 11:54.  MacRae added an assist in the game giving the 6’ 2” forward 5 points in his first 2 games with the Nationals since arriving from the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats.  It took little time for the Nats to take the lead when Jack Webb converted a Cohen Kiteley pass on a two-on-one at 13:45.  Defenseman Jordan Di Cicco’s floater from the point through traffic 52 seconds later would turn out to be the game winner.  Second period shots favoured London 13-11.

The Rockets found themselves with a five-minute powerplay when former St. Marys Lincoln Tyson Kielt was ejected from the game for a check to the head on Franklin.  The Rockets converted once when a Liam Whittaker point shot changed direction after hitting Rombouts in front of the net and skimmed past Springer to bring the Rockets back to within a goal.  Carson Brookshaw had a great chance to restore the 2-goal London lead but fired the puck off the goalpost on a breakaway attempt.  Undeterred the Rockets continued to press.  It appeared as if they had tied the game when Matthew Stevens beat Springer with a wraparound but the goal was waved off due to a dislodged net.  Spencer Allen and Harris had a terrific chance when they broke in on a 2-on-0 but were turned aside by Springer.  Despite a wild scrambles around the London goal in the dying moments the Rockets were unable to manufacture the tying goal.  The Rockets held a 15-8 shot advantage in the third period.  Final shots favoured the Nats 37-35.

(photo – Colleen Wiendels Photography)

David Honsberger

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