By Pat Payton
The goals may have slightly changed for St. Marys Lincolns. Now, they want to hang onto third place and use the final 14 regular-season games to prepare for the Western Conference playoffs.
Any chance of gaining second place probably evaporated this past weekend when Lincs lost back-to-back home games to Leamington Flyers and London Nationals. A 4-3 loss to Leamington Saturday night leaves Lincolns 11 points behind the second-place Flyers (28-7-1-2), with two games in hand.
After last weekend, Lincs (21-9-3-3) are six points up on the fourth-place LaSalle Vipers (18-12-1-5). Both teams have played the same number of games (36).
Prior to the weekend, St. Marys coach Trent McClement said the games against Leamington and London would serve as a measuring stick for the Lincolns. Any flaws in their game would have to be corrected going forward.
“We have to get back to playing 60 minutes,” McClement said after Saturday’s game. “In fact, I don’t think we’ve played a full 60 minutes all year. Usually our first periods are good, but our second periods are something we need to fix. It’s when we take most of our penalties.
“We need to be more disciplined and stay focused for the full 60 minutes. Those are things we should take away from this weekend. Now is when you get ready for playoffs . . . you fine-tune everything.”
Flyers 4 – Lincolns 3
At the PRC Saturday night, Lincolns let early 1-0 and 2-1 leads slip away against Leamington.
Defenceman Max Mulder and captain Cayse Ton (shorthanded) gave Lincs their one-goal leads in the opening 20 minutes. However, Flyers took the lead for good in the second period on goals by Zach Taylor (powerplay) and Griffin Robinson.
Robinson’s second goal of the night, at 3:35 of the third on a powerplay, put the visitors up 4-2 and it stood up as the game winner. Ton (his 14th) pulled Lincolns to within a goal with just under seven minutes remaining. McClement pulled goalie Kyle Curtin for a sixth attacker with 1:20 left on the clock, but the home team couldn’t get the game into extra time.
“We just have to get back in a groove,” coach McClement said after the game. “Tonight, we came in a little shortstaffed, but the boys battled. I think the difference tonight was (Griffin) Robinson. He got two chances and buried them both.
“We had a couple of breakaways that we didn’t capitalize on, and we missed a wide-open net in the third period. And we took a couple of bad penalties against this team. We just have to get back to the basics. We’ll have everybody back healthy next weekend and we’ll be ready for Komoka and Strathroy.”
Leamington went 2-for-4 on the powerplay. “I think our powerplay ended up winning it for us,” Flyers’ coach Cam Crowder said. “When you win tight games against good teams, it helps you for your playoff run. But that game tonight could have gone either way in my opinion.”
Lincs are now 2-2-1 against Leamington.
Nationals 7 – Lincolns 1
At the PRC Friday night, Lincolns’ goals-against record suffered a blow in a 7-1 loss to the first-place Nationals in front of an estimated 750 spectators.
Lincs went into the game with the fewest goals against in the conference. The seven goals allowed were the most the team has given up in any game this season.
The Nats, meanwhile, displayed their offensive prowess and why they sit atop the West standings. Nationals were simply the better team on this night, skating to their 16th road win of the campaign.
London, which built period leads of 2-0 and 5-0, scored three times with the man advantage. Leading the way for the Nationals were veteran linemates Cal Davis and Max Vinogradov. Davis, who leads the entire GOJHL in points, collected three goals and two assists, while Vinogradov had a goal and helped set up four others. The other singles went to Eric Guest, Ryan Martin and Zach Sheedy. After the fifth Nats’ goal late in the middle frame, Lincolns replaced starter Cy Martin with Kyle Curtin.
Play deteriorates in third
The teams have an obvious dislike for each other, and there was a constant parade to the penalty box in the third. One of the penalties to St. Marys was a five-minute cross-checking major to Ryan Brown, who received a one-game suspension.
Play deteriorated as the period went on with all the penalties. Lincs’ Kyle Kuznik finally gave the big home-town crowd something to cheer about when he fired a shorthanded goal with just under eight minutes to play.
“London has a new goalie (Brock Baier) and he played pretty well tonight,” coach McClement said. “We had our chances in the first period; I thought the first period was pretty even, even though they were up 2-0. As the second period went along, myself included, I think we got too involved in the officiating and we can’t control that. I think we got too frustrated.
“We’ve beat London a lot this season, and won the season series. They’re a proven team and have won this league countless times and they came to play tonight. I don’t think we matched their intensity through the whole game. We let them walk into the slot a little too much.
“But we’re a young team. I’ve coached teams that got blown out in the playoffs, but you still ended up winning the series. We have to learn from this.”
McClement says Lincolns have to learn “mental toughness” after losing the way they did to the division leaders.
“We have to have better discipline,” he said. “Now we have a suspension (to Brown) and he’s a guy we could really use (Saturday) night against Leamington. As the game and the score got out of hand, we have to realize that it’s just one game.
“We didn’t have playoff hockey last year, and that was a playoff game tonight. We didn’t rise to the occasion like we wanted to.”
Lincs took 57 of the 89 penalty minutes.
Despite the loss, Lincolns won the seasonal series (3-2-1) against the Nationals. The Nats have lost only five games all season, and three have been to St. Marys. With Friday’s win, London improved to 30-5-1-1.
–The 50-50 draw last Friday was the biggest of the season, worth over $700.
–He was a pretty happy lad Saturday night. MacKenzie Ballantyne, of St. Marys, was ‘Jr. Lincoln for the night.’
–Cayse Ton was named Lincs’ player-of-the-game Saturday.
–This weekend, Lincolns host Komoka Kings Friday, then travel to Strathroy Saturday to play the Rockets. It will be Lincs’ first road game of 2020. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.