By Spencer Seymour
The St. Marys Lincolns were in a good position on Monday night after beating the Strathroy Rockets in the first two games of their first-round series.
The series was originally scheduled to begin last Friday in St. Marys but the game was postponed due to inclement weather.
Lincs win Game One 5-4 in overtime
Despite a lack of discipline and an energetic effort from the underdog Rockets, the Lincolns managed to escape with a 5-4 victory in overtime. However, it wasn’t without room for improvement, specifically, according to Head Coach Jeff Bradley, as it related to staying out of the penalty box.
“In the first period, we lacked intensity but in the second and third, I was much happier because we stuck to our gameplan and didn’t give them much. Obviously, though, the discipline part and us taking some selfish penalties was extremely disappointing and very uncharacteristic for our group. Part of our gameplan was to be disciplined and we executed on every other facet of our strategy except for the discipline part.”
The Lincolns gave the Rockets nine powerplays in the game, with Strathroy capitalizing on two of them. In their last five games of the regular season, the Rockets’ powerplay scored nine goals on 36 opportunities.
The first of Strathroy’s two powerplay goals came at 6:33 of the first period, with Andrew Jaques potting the game’s first goal. Just over 11 minutes later, with the Lincs on a man advantage of their own, Michael Elliston skated the puck to the point and fired a shot through a screen and past goaltender Liam Reid to tie the game at one apiece.
A much stronger second period from the Lincolns allowed them to take a 3-1 lead in the middle frame on goals by Adrian Stubberfield and Ethan Lamoureux. The Rockets pushed back, however, getting a goal from Caden Faulkner with one minute left in the second to cut the St. Marys lead to one.
Just 90 seconds into the third, Austin Keleher tipped a shot from the blueline by Nathan Small that snuck through the five-hole of Reid to restore the Lincolns’ two-goal lead. Keleher’s goal also meant that a member of every forward line had chipped in a goal in the contest.
Penalty trouble came back to bite the Lincolns later in the third on an extended five-on-three Strathroy man advantage. Cole Smith buried a powerplay marker at the 14:22 mark, followed just under two minutes later by the second goal of the game for Jaques to tie the game at 4-4 which, although not a powerplay goal, came after the Lincs iced the puck and got caught with a tired group on the ice.
In overtime, the Lincolns once again had to kill a penalty taken by Owen Voortman, which they did successfully. The Thunder Bay-native made up for the infraction less than two minutes after leaving the penalty box by pounding a one-timer past Reid on a drop pass by Jaden Lee in the slot to win the game.
St. Marys was playing with only four defencemen, with Adam Barkley, Josh Cornfield, and Rourke McEwan all out with injuries. With no affiliate players available for a call-up, this left all of the defensive duties to Small, Jacob Montesi, Grayden Strohack, and Josh Tidgwell. Bradley was happy with how all four stepped up to log huge minutes for the Lincolns, specifically the two first-year Junior ‘B’ rearguards, Montesi and Strohack.
“Considering how depleted our blueline was, I thought they played really well, especially Jacob and Grayden. They are rookies in this league, we had to put a lot of pressure on them, each of them were getting close to 30 minutes of ice time, and they more than held their own. Nathan and Josh were good enough for us to win, but I know they can be better, and if they stay out of the box, I know they will be better.”
“We’ve been lacking secondary scoring as of late,” Bradley continued, “so for Stubberfield’s line to pitch in with a goal and then for the Keleher-Voortman-Prendergast line to not only score but to play exactly the way we want them to, it was huge for us.”
Lincs take Game Two 4-1
A much more disciplined, well-rounded effort by the Lincolns in Game Two on Monday night propelled them to a 4-1 victory over the Rockets.
“Aside from a little bit of running around in the defensive zone, I was really happy with how we played,” said Bradley. “We were responsible in preventing the rush, we waited for our chances and capitalized. We did a great job in the faceoff dot. There were some things we still want to get going a bit better but overall, we were happy with our game.”
Bradley was also much happier with the discipline that his team played with compared to Saturday’s game. The Lincolns only took three penalties in Game Two and killed off all three Strathroy powerplays.
St. Marys came out flying right from the opening faceoff with Matt Prendergast potting his first of the post-season just 64 seconds into the game. Jacob Chantler hounded down the puck behind the Rockets net and managed to set up Prendergast in the slot who wired it past Rockets’ netminder Dylan Grover.
Just over 10 minutes later, a breakdown on the powerplay gave Alex Laszlo the opportunity to bury a shorthanded tally and tie the game at 1-1.
Much like in the first period, the Lincs got the jump on Strathroy early in the second as well. This time, it took just one minute and eight seconds for Nathan Small to fire a point shot through a screen and past Grover. Small’s goal held up as the eventual game-winner. With just 93 seconds remaining in the middle stanza, a strong drive through centre ice and towards the net by Grayden Strohack opened up some space for Chase MacQueen-Spence, who fired a one-timer that Grover was only able to get a piece of before it went into the net.
At the 16:16 mark of the third, a misplay by Grover behind the net led to Chantler pushing the puck into the slot for Jaden Lee who easily put it into a yawning net, making it a 4-1 score. Matteo Lalama was great in net, making 41 of 42 saves.
The Lincolns played Game Three on Tuesday night after the Independent’s press time. Game four takes place on Thursday and Game Five is scheduled for Friday, both in St. Marys. If necessary, Game Six will be played on Saturday in Strathroy, with Game Seven slated for next Monday.
Before Friday’s game, the Lincolns had a moment of silence in honour of Ernie Little, who sadly passed away last week at the age of 85. Little was the “Original Goalie” for the Lincolns, backstopping the team in their first season, and has been a celebrated former player ever since. The team hung a jersey bearing Little’s name and number on the glass between the benches where it was prominently visible to the crowd.
Jacob Montesi fistbumps a fan as he comes off the ice. Montesi is one of just four defencemen the Lincolns have had in the first two games of their playoff match-up against the Rockets and has stepped up with some strong defensive play while logging a ton of minutes alongside Nathan Small, Grayden Strohack, and Josh Tidgwell. (Photo credit: Mike Chennette/McGinny Photography)