By Pat Payton
In the two-week stretch before the Christmas break, St. Marys Lincolns certainly proved that they’re one of the top teams in the GOJHL’s Western Conference.
Lincs went 4-1-2 in a tough December schedule, which included two home games against the first-place London Nationals and one on the road against the second-place Leamington Flyers.
The third-place Lincolns completed the 2019 portion of their regular schedule with a pair of hard-fought, double-overtime ties against the Flyers and Nationals. The games came on back-to-back nights.
‘Played our best hockey’
“Against the top two teams in the league, we’ve played our best hockey,” St. Marys coach Trent McClement told the Independent. “It shows that the boys believe they can beat anybody in this league. It’s a good confidence booster going into playoffs, knowing that we have a chance to win every night. It’s something we can build on going forward.
“To take both teams to overtime and get the two points, it’s huge for us. We’re as good as anybody in this league right now, and these last two games show it. We’re ready to play on any given night.”
Of a possible 18 points against London and Leamington to date, Lincolns have picked up 13 points.
Lincs (20-7-3-3) go into the two-week Christmas break with a seven-point lead on the fourth-place LaSalle Vipers (17-11-1-4). Both teams have played the same number of games (33). Lincolns are also seven points behind Leamington (25-7-1-2), with two games in hand, and 12 points behind the front-running Nationals (28-4-1-1).
Lincolns 2 – Nationals 2 (2OT)
At the PRC Friday, Dec. 20, Lincolns guaranteed themselves a winning record against the Nationals as the teams battled to a 2-2 tie in another playoff-type game between the two rivals.
It was another hard-hitting game, without the chippiness of the week before when Lincs edged the Nats 3-2.
The tie gives Lincolns a 3-1-1 record against the Nationals. The teams play again Jan. 10 in St. Marys.
“You can see a little rivalry happening; London doesn’t like losing and right now we’re giving them some trouble,” coach McClement said after last Friday’s game. “It’s a good confidence-builder for us looking ahead to the playoffs. If we go up against them, we know we can beat them here and in London.”
Lincolns matched Nationals’ early intensity and jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the 10-minute mark of the first period on goals by Thomas McLatchie (his 11th) and Mason Mantzavrakos (his 19th).
Nats closed the gap to 2-1 with a powerplay goal by defenceman Logan Mailoux at 8:53 of the second period. At the 13:37 mark, Josh Martin put Lincs up 3-1, but the goal was disallowed when the officials ruled a penalty was being called against St. Marys behind the play. London’s leading scorer Cal Davis tied it 2-2 at 2:06 of the third, and then shortly after Davis broke in all alone while killing a penalty, but was denied by goalie Kyle Curtin.
In the first 4-on-4 five-minute OT period, both teams picked up minor penalties, but neither could take advantage. After Curtin made a huge stop early in the second 3-on-3 OT period, Nationals’ captain Max Vinogradov celebrated what he thought was the winning goal with 1:57 remaining. However, the goal was waved off when the officials ruled the net was knocked off its moorings.
In the final 30 seconds, Mantzavrakos had two clear-cut breakaways, but couldn’t get the puck behind Nats’ goalie Shawn Wiranata. The second attempt came with just two seconds left on the clock.
Tempers flared at the end of 70 hard-fought minutes as the players milled around at centre ice exchanging ‘pleasantries’ before the teams were finally escorted off the ice.
Overall, Nationals had a 47-42 edge in shots, but Lincolns had a 10-2 advantage in overtime. Curtin, with 45 saves, was named Lincs’ player-of-the-game.
Lincolns 2 – Flyers 2 (2OT)
In Leamington the previous night, Lincolns earned their sixth point of a possible eight against the Flyers this season as the teams skated to a 2-2 double-overtime tie in front of just over 500 spectators.
Lincs, who have had four very close games against Leamington to date, have lost just once to the Flyers. Lincolns dropped a 1-0 overtime decision in Leamington’s first trip to St. Marys in late September.
In last Thursday’s game, Flyers held 1-0 and 2-1 leads on goals by Thomas Michaud and Josh King. Josh Martin and defenceman Brayden Hislop replied for the Lincs. Hislop’s third goal in the last four games came just 73 seconds after King had put the home team ahead midway through the second period.
Leamington out-shot St. Marys 5-4 in two scoreless five-minute OT periods, and 35-28 overall. Cyrus Martin (3-0-1) went the distance for the Lincs, who played the game without four regulars.
“It was a good, hard-fought game,” coach McClement reported. “Anytime you can go down to Leamington and get a point, it’s a good job. It’s not an easy barn to play in, but we’ve had a lot of success down there so far.”
With the single point, Lincolns stayed five points behind the Flyers.
–Lincolns’ first game in the New Year is Friday, Jan. 3 when they host the fifth-place Chatham Maroons (14-11-1-6) at 7:30 p.m. It’s the first of four straight home games for St. Marys.
–Lincs have been in 11 overtime games to date.
–The Dec. 20 home game against London featured the biggest 50-50 pot this season: $540.