(photo credit: Mike Chennette – McGinny Photography)
By Spencer Seymour
The GOJHL’s regular season is over and the playoff brackets are set, with the third-place St. Marys Lincolns having home-ice advantage on the sixth-ranked Strathroy Rockets. The Lincolns finished their season with 34 wins and 71 points, while Strathroy finished with 22 victories and 53 points.
The other first-round match-ups include the top-seeded Leamington Flyers battling the eighth-place Sarnia Legionnaires, the second-ranked London Nationals facing the seventh-seeded St. Thomas Stars, and the fourth-place LaSalle Vipers taking on the fifth-ranked and defending Western Conference Champion Chatham Maroons.
Flyers fend off comeback, beat Lincs 4-3
The Lincolns’ 15-game home winning streak was snapped last Friday night by the visiting Leamington Flyers who staved off a third-period surge by St. Marys to escape with a 4-3 victory.
Despite the loss, Matteo Lalama was very good in between the pipes for the Lincolns. Under two minutes into the game, Josh Tidgwell was assessed a game misconduct for a check from behind. Later in the game, Rourke McEwan was injured, giving the Lincolns just four defencemen for a large part of the contest.
Head Coach Jeff Bradley said he wasn’t too unhappy with how his team played, especially in the third period, given how short on defenders they were, but felt the team’s puck management wasn’t quite clicking the way it normally is.
“In the first two periods, with how hard and fast Leamington comes at you, we were taking a little too long to make decisions with the puck. I thought we were outstanding in the third period, our special teams were really good, but the late five-on-three penalty kill stopped our momentum.”
“Without the puck, I thought we were very good, but with the puck, we couldn’t generate enough opportunities for ourselves. Being so thin on the blueline due to the injuries really hurt us but considering what we had, our guys did a great job. Our guys didn’t give up at any point. They got up by two goals three times and we kept clawing back and getting it back to a one-goal deficit.”
A giveaway in the first minute of the game led to Griffin Grundner snapping a 17-game goal drought just 56 seconds in. In the second period, Connor MacPherson scored what went on to be the first of his hat-trick.
Two of the team’s leaders turned in what the coach called “very gutsy” efforts, with Nathan Small logging a ton of ice time with a severely depleted blueline, as well as Ethan Lamoureux getting the Lincolns’ offence going.
“Nathan had been sick for two days and hadn’t practiced this week, but was probably our best player. He had to play probably close to 30 minutes and he gave us a really gutsy performance. Our captain played exactly the way you want your captain to play. Ethan led by example and just never stopped pushing.”
In the third, the Lincs’ offence finally found its footing and they dominated the play for much of the final 20 minutes. Luca Spagnolo found the back of the net to get off of an eight-game stretch without a goal, while Lamoureux buried two in the third. However, the high-powered Flyers had an answer every time and managed to squeak out a 4-3 victory.
Lincs excellent in 6-3 victory over Vipers
The strong play of the third period against Leamington was continued and even ratcheted up a notch or two 48 hours later when the Lincolns travelled to LaSalle and earned a dominant 6-3 victory over the Vipers. With the win, the Lincolns avoided losing two in a row, something they haven’t done since October 2nd and 7th.
Bradley was ecstatic with his team’s performance and their incredible stretch of not losing consecutive games, calling the game an “awesome” way to end the regular season.
“The last three games, I’ve been really impressed with our team and how we’ve handled the adversity we’ve faced due to injuries. They have confidence in themselves and we have confidence in them. We’ve got a bunch of gamers here who are programmed to win. They are a hungry group. When we lose, we try to address the reasons we lost and every time we challenge this group, they respond really well.”
The Lincolns had the jump on LaSalle right from the start with Spagnolo scoring just one minute and four seconds into the game, banking the puck off of goaltender Ian Michelone from a tight angle and into the net. Seven minutes and 50 seconds later, Tidgwell netted his second goal as a Lincoln from the point assisted by Owen Voortman and Matt Prendergast. The assist gave Voortman points in four straight games. The Lincolns continued to dominate the Vipers, leading to Jaden Lee burying his 16th of the year with 41 seconds left in the period to take a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
Spagnolo’s second of the game came at 6:01 of the second period, extending the Lincolns’ lead to 4-0 and chasing Michelone from the Vipers’ net. Lamoureux fed the puck to Spagnolo in the slot who tucked it through the five-hole on Michelone. With an earlier assist on Spagnolo’s first goal, Lamoureux’s second point of the night gave him 140 career points.
The goalie swap change LaSalle a bit of a spark and they managed to capitalize on a powerplay opportunity just under four minutes later with a shot by Carson Woodall in the high slot just barely trickling through Lalama.
In the third, the Lincolns’ strong play continued with Lamoureux leading the charge, potting his 20th of the season with a tight-angle shot that snuck over the shoulder of LaSalle goalie Tre Altiman. Less than three minutes later, Michael Elliston snapped home a powerplay marker to make it a five-goal Lincolns’ lead.
The Vipers managed to find two goals 31 seconds apart within the last minute-and-a-half but the Lincolns held on for the 6-3 win and, in beating the Vipers, the Lincolns locked up third place in the conference, while LaSalle finished fourth.
First-Round Playoff Schedule
The Lincolns and Rockets begin their first-round series this Friday night at the PRC and will conclude no later than March 13th. The home games will be broadcast on both HockeyTV and St. Marys Radio. The road games will also be available at stmarysradio.com and 30 minutes before every playoff game, the 2023 Lincolns Season Special will air on St. Marys Radio.
Game One – Rockets @ Lincolns at 7:30 p.m. at Pyramid Recreation Centre
Game Two – Lincolns @ Rockets at 7:30 p.m. at West Middlesex Memorial Arena
Game Three – Rockets @ Lincolns at 7:30 p.m. at Pyramid Recreation Centre
Game Four – Lincolns @ Rockets at 7:30 p.m. at West Middlesex Memorial Arena
Game Five* – Rockets @ Lincolns at 7:30 p.m. at Pyramid Recreation Centre
Game Six* – Lincolns @ Rockets at 7:30 p.m. at West Middlesex Memorial Arena
Game Seven* – Rockets @ Lincolns at 7:30 p.m. at Pyramid Recreation Centre