By Pat Payton
STRATHROY – The first-place St. Marys Lincolns!
That’s where the 5-0-1-0 Lincs sit in the Western Conference standings after earning five of a possible six points in three GOJHL games last week. After weekend action, Lincolns share the top spot with Leamington Flyers (5-1-0-1), who also have 11 points. One team has a chance to grab sole possession of first when Lincs and Flyers meet this Friday in St. Marys at 7:30 p.m.
The buzz around town everyone seems to be asking is: when was the last time St. Marys started with five wins and a tie in its first six regular-season games?
Here Saturday night at the West Middlesex Arena, Lincolns kept their unbeaten streak alive and almost spoiled the Rockets’ home opener, but had to settle for a 1-1 double-overtime tie.
“Three games in four nights and we come out with five points,” coach Trent McClement said, accentuating the positive. “And we haven’t lost yet. We were 20 seconds away from going 6-0; we were so close.
“But this league is a tight league. Not to make excuses, but I think we have to learn how to play in that Strathroy rink. It’s a small rink and everything seems to collapse to the centre.”
Lincolns 1 – Rockets 1 (2OT)
In Strathroy Saturday, Lincolns were just 22 seconds away from a sixth straight victory to open the regular season. However, a powerplay goal by the Rockets’ Cody Clerc at 19:38 of the third period forced the extra time. The home team had also pulled goalie Josh Diamond for a 6-on-4 man advantage.
Strathroy went on the powerplay after Lincs’ captain Blair Butchart received a holding-the-stick minor with 29 seconds remaining. “We had about three chances to get it out on the PK, but didn’t,” McClement reported. “They threw a puck at the net and it ended up going in. To me, it’s a call that shouldn’t be made with 30 seconds left.”
Lincs’ winger Thomas McLatchie (his sixth) opened the scoring at 9:52 of the second period from Joe Mazur and Braeden Burdett.
Overall, Lincolns held a 32-30 edge in shots. Rockets (1-1-1-1) out-shot the Lincs 5-3 in 10 minutes of OT. Kyle Curtin (3-0-1) made 29 saves for the visitors, while Diamond made 31 stops.
It was a much different game than the high-scoring contest 24 hours earlier in St. Marys. There also wasn’t a penalty called until past the midway mark of the second period. Both sides took just three minor penalties.
“Tonight, you knew the goals that went in weren’t going to be pretty,” McClement said. “It was that kind of game, a dump and chase game.”
Lincolns 7 – Stars 6
In front of about 400 spectators Friday night at the PRC, Lincolns let 3-0, 5-3 and 6-5 leads slip away, but pulled out a 7-6 victory over St. Thomas Stars with a powerplay goal with less than two minutes to play. Defenceman Max Mulder’s shot from the point at 18:07 found its way into the Stars’ net, snapping a 6-6 tie.
“We were playing amazing at the start of the game, jumping out to the 3-0 lead, but we got away from what made us so special in the first period,” coach McClement said. “We let St. Thomas back in the game, giving up those two shorthanded goals in the second period. We also had some veterans who took some undisciplined penalties, but at the end of the day we battled back and got the two points.
“It’s early in the season, and we just have to fix those little lapses. But like I’ve said before, it’s nice to learn things while we’re winning. We looked so good at the start of the game, then it looked like two different teams out there.”
Mason Mantzavrakos and Justin McIntyre fired two apiece to pace the St. Marys attack. Blair Butchart, Joe Mazur and Mulder added the singles. Mantzavrakos also tacked on an assist for a three-point night.
Ryan Brown, with two, Darius Mani, Colton Wiacek, Russell Oldham and Brady Elder scored for the Stars, who fell to 2-3.
“We didn’t start on time tonight,” St. Thomas coach Rob Coutts lamented. “We’ve had slow starts and it really puts you in a hole. We can score, but you can’t give up seven and expect to be successful in this league.”
Overall, Lincs out-shot the Stars 29-18, with goalie Gleb Poliakov picking up his second win of the young season. The team combined for 68 penalty minutes.
“You can’t take a night off, not in this conference,” St. Marys GM Greg Smale remarked following the game.
Lincolns 5 – Nationals 4
At Western Fair last Wednesday night, Lincolns skated off with the only unblemished record in the Western loop after handing the home-town Nationals a 5-4 defeat in front of approximately 525 spectators.
Both teams (London 4-0; St. Marys 3-0) went into the game undefeated. Lincs built 2-0, 4-2 and 5-3 leads and then withstood a late Nationals’ rally.
Leading the way for the Lincolns was veteran Cayse Ton with a pair of goals. If there was a first star, it was the hard-nosed winger from New Liskeard. Ton was Lincs’ best player, offensively and in the physical department.
“Obviously, getting a couple veterans back like Ton and Butchart is huge for St. Marys,” London coach-GM Pat Powers said. “I think their early-season success will pay big dividends for them long term.”
Ryan Burke (powerplay), Braeden Burdett and Thomas McLatchie also scored for St. Marys, with Butchart contributing two assists. Cal Davis, Griffin Sinden, Cohen Kiteley and Josh Castle replied for the Nats, who went 3-0 on home ice against the Lincolns last season.
A key turning point in the game occurred midway through the second period when Ton (on a clear-cut breakaway) and Burdett scored goals just 57 seconds apart to put the Lincs up 4-2. Nationals replaced starter Devyn Calrk with Bryce Walcarius after the Burdett tally.
After Kiteley closed the gap to 4-3 in the opening minute of the third, McLatchie scored what proved to be the winner from a scramble just over three minutes later. With Walcarius on the bench for an extra attacker, Nationals scored with 46 seconds left on the clock, but that’s as close as they’d get.
Announced shots were 44-22 for London, but that stat wasn’t indicative of the game as St. Marys probably had the better scoring chances (three breakaways) over the course of the night. Kyle Curtin played well again, making 38 saves in recording the win.
“There were some flaws, it’s early in the season, but I thought it was nice that we learned to play with the lead in the third,” coach McClement said. “When London scored that early powerplay goal in the third, last year we might have folded after that.
“But this year, we have more confidence. We came back and scored another goal to go up by two again. We didn’t panic. It just shows a lot of growth with our team. Our team is experiencing winning early, and as you can hear from the dressing room tonight the boys are enjoying this.”
This weekend: After Lincolns’ huge home game against Leamington Friday, they head to Komoka to meet the Kings (2-2-1-0) Saturday at 7:15 p.m. “It will be another big test for us this weekend,” McClement noted.