The addition of three 20-year-olds to the Rockets’ lineup late in the season of Jack Hutton, Michael Byrne and Mark Bastow has “energized our team” according to head coach/GM Mike Bondy.  The three late free agents signings were key in helping to field a competitive team as the Rocket roster is riddled with absentees due to injuries and scholastic conflicts.  Sidelined for likely the remainder of the season is Adrian Franklin.  A case in point was the Rockets’ vital head-to-head matchup with the St. Marys Lincolns at the Pyramid Recreation Centre on Friday, February 9.  The Rockets, as well as the Lincolns, entered the game with only 16 skaters.  Although neither Bastow nor Byrne found their way onto the game sheet their presence had a profound effect on the game.  The duo’s work in the faceoff circle was outstanding.  The pair won 23 faceoffs and lost just 6 for a 79.3% proficiency rate.  Bastow was 14-5 while Byrne was near perfect at 9-1.  Combined with TJ Harris’ 5-2 faceoff performance the Rockets began most plays with possession of the puck.

Entering the match with a one-point lead over the Lincolns for the eighth and final playoff spot the Rockets moved a little further ahead of St. Marys with a 3-2 overtime win earning the Rockets a 2-point lead on the Lincolns and moving the club into a seventh place tie with the Komoka Kings.

The scoreless opening period was a very tentative one for both clubs.  Both the Rockets and the Lincolns were concentrating on their defensive play.  Despite outshooting the Rockets 12-8 in the first period the Lincs looked fatigued after playing the previous night in Chatham.

Things heated up in the middle frame with both clubs scoring twice.  All four goals were scored via the powerplay.  The Rockets drew first blood when Michael Wood picked the top corner short side on Lincoln starter Jacob Hutchings at 1:37.  Underage rookie standout Dalton Bancroft would put St. Marys on top with a pair of goals at 9:54 and 13:12.  On his first goal he toe-dragged the puck around the Rocket defense and fired a low shot past Vince Michelizzi in the Rocket goal.  For his go-ahead goal Bancroft fired a one-timer past Michelizzi from the off-wing after some lovely puck possession by the Lincolns.  The lead did not hold up for long as Rocket defenseman Brady MacDonald stepped into a slapshot from the faceoff dot to the left of Hutchings picking the top right corner at 17:13.  The Lincs outshot the Rockets once again, this time 11-8 for a two-period advantage of 23-16.

The two clubs skated through an exciting scoreless third period despite the low shots on goal totals.  The Rockets doubled up the Lincolns 8-4.  A couple of minutes into the period Michael Andrews stripped the puck from Rocket Noah Campbell but rattled the puck off the goalpost on a breakaway.  Hutchings came up big denying Matthew Stevens on an odd-man rush.  With just four minutes left in regulation it was Rocket goaltender Michelizzi’s turn to shine with a dynamic skate save on Austin Maietta.  A minute later Bancroft nearly completed his hat trick and gave the Lincolns the win but his shot found the iron behind Michelizzi not the mesh.

The game-winner came at 3:59 of the first overtime period when Wood sprung Rocket captain Greg Marks and Spencer Allen on a two-on-one opportunity.  Marks set up Allen with a perfect pass and Allen displayed his patience finding his spot and picking the top corner.  Overtime shots were even at 3-3.  Similar to the Lincolns loss in Chatham the previous night, St. Marys had many great scoring opportunities but were unable to convert.  Finals shots favoured the Lincolns 30-27.

The Rockets destroyed the Lincolns in the faceoff circle winning 44 and losing just 26 draws (62.9%).  Allen’s game winner was his 5th of the season.  The Rocket franchise record for game-winning goals in a season is 8 set by Jason Davies in 1998-99.  The win gave the season series to the Rockets 3-2-1.  Strathroy has not lost a season series to St. Marys for the past 15 years.  Both clubs went 02 for 4 on the powerplay.

(photo credit – Colleen Weindels Photography)

David Honsberger

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