By Pat Payton
When St. Marys Lincolns’ GM Greg Smale acquired Mason Mantzavrakos over the summer, he said the 17-year-old Londoner can score goals. Mantzavrakos is showing he can do just that!
The right winger’s second goal of the night, at 3:05 of the second five-minute overtime period, lifted Lincs to an exciting 2-1 victory over the LaSalle Vipers in their GOJHL home opener last Friday night at the PRC. It was a good, fast entertaining game for the estimated 500 fans in attendance.
Mantzavrakos’s winner is his third goal of the young campaign as St. Marys improved to 3-0 in the Western Conference standings. Vipers, a quick-skating, good puck-moving team, slipped to 1-2-1 with the OT defeat.
A game changer
“Up front, I thought Mason was one of our best forwards,” Lincolns’ coach Trent McClement said following the game. “Last year, I don’t think we won any games that we didn’t really deserve to win. I’m not saying we didn’t totally deserve to win tonight, but it wasn’t our strongest game and we pulled it out.
“But having kids like Mason, he’s one of those game changers who can help pull out a win in these tight games. It’s nice to have him on board.”
With the teams playing four aside, LaSalle defenceman Abdul Abouzeeni opened the scoring at the 14-minute mark of the first period on a 2-on-1 break. Mantzavrakos tied it 1-1 at the 18:58 mark, firing a pretty breakaway goal after being sprung into the clear by captain Blair Butchart.
Lincs spent a good chunk of the second period killing penalties, but goalie Kyle Curtin stood strong as Vipers held a 14-6 advantage in shots.
Lincolns had three great scoring chances early in the third. Thomas McLatchie beat LaSalle goalie Sami Molu but not the crossbar, and the game remained deadlocked.
In the 4-on-4 overtime period, Vipers held a 5-2 edge in shots. The visitors had some nail-biting scoring chances early in the 3-on-3 OT period, but couldn’t get the puck behind Curtin. Finally, with just under two minutes left in the second overtime, Mantzavrakos converted a Butchart pass for the winner.
“I was going to take a shot, but when I saw Butchie coming behind me I thought this guy knows what he’s doing, so I dropped it to him,” Mantzavrakos explained. “Luckily the puck bounced out and I was there to tap it in.”
Coach McClement also praised Curtin (2-0). The second-year Lincoln finished the night with 41 saves as LaSalle out-shot St. Marys 42-27 overall.
“I thought Curtin stood on his head,” he said. “Tonight, without Curty, we don’t have a chance to win. That one save he made in overtime, last year it likely would have gone in.”
Discipline work needed
McClement admitted that his team has to work on its discipline. Lincolns took 30 of the 44 penalty minutes handed out.
“The penalties are going to kill us,” he said. “When you’re spending a whole period killing penalties, we got a little lucky tonight. It’s something we have to learn from.”
On the positive side, the Lincs’ coach liked the way his team persevered and won a tight, hard-fought contest.
“It shows our growth from last year,” he said. “It shows we can stay mentally tough and win these kinds of hockey games. It was a nice win and a big win. It’s nice learning these lessons in wins, rather than losses.
“We have a long way to go, and it’s early in the season, but we’re going to hold our team accountable. Even in wins like this, we still want to improve and get better.”
Coach-GM John Nelson hopes his young Vipers learn something from the loss.
“I thought both teams played excellent,” Nelson said. “I was really proud of the way my guys played. We were prepared to play before the puck was dropped and I don’t think we took any shifts off. St. Marys has an excellent team and this is a really hard rink to win in.
“But a lot of the young guys on our team got a lesson tonight. We had a whack of chances to score and didn’t take advantage of them. Eventually it’s going to cost you and it did tonight. St. Marys scored a nice goal in overtime.”
Upcoming games: Lincolns have three games this week. They travel to London Wednesday to play the 4-0 Nationals at 7 p.m. Lincs host St. Thomas Stars (2-2) Friday at 7:30 p.m., before heading to Strathroy Saturday to meet the Rockets (1-1-0-1) at 5 p.m.